Sure, you could go see Hunger Games, but why see a movie about hungry people when you could see a movie that makes you hungry? We were going to go see Hunger Games, in fact, but, well, it’s like two-and-a-half hours long and it was opening weekend. (The Boy likes a sparse audience.)
Instead, we saw this David Gelb documentary about a Japanese sushi maker, Jiro Ono, who has been making sushi for (he says) 75 years. He has a little sushi bar in Tokyo that serves only sushi. (As Jiro explains at one point, when they served other things, people would order drinks and appetizers and be too full to eat more than a few pieces of sushi.)
Although it’s not a religious movie, a Buddhist sensibility pervades: Jiro lives his life like it’s a meditative chant. Every day he does the exact same thing, even down to passing through the same turnstile at the subway. But it’s not a rote thing. It’s immersion in the moment.
And it’s not unthinking. While he has a routine, Jiro is always looking to improve every aspect of the sushi-making process. In this movie’s short (80 minute) run, we see how the best fish at the market goes to Jiro’s place, how there’s a special rice that the seller doesn’t even let others have (because they won’t cook it right), and how apprentices serve out their ten year apprenticeship.
The pursuit of perfection and love of work so permeates this documentary that when we see an exchange with Jiro’s older son, Yoshikazu, and a grocer who wants to retire, it’s sort of shocking. Jiro knows well that retirement will lead to a quick death, and he’s passed that sentiment on to his two sons.
Yoshikazu is in a sticky situation. He, at 50, is expected to take over for his father—well, about 20 years ago! And about 15 years ago, Jiro had a heart attack. So, he stopped going to the fish market, leaving that to his older son. But in the past 15 years, and he’s still waiting.
But it’ll be a mixed bag when that day finally comes, because Jiro has become an institution. His little ten-seat sushi-only bar is one of the few Michelin 3-star-rated places in Tokyo. Even though Jiro makes it clear that 95% of the sushi prep is done before he touches it, and even though it was Yoshikazu who prepared the sushi for the Michelin critics, it’s assumed that Jiro’s departure will result in the perception of reduced quality.
The younger brother has a paradoxically better situation, by virtue of being kicked out by Jiro to start his own place. He has to charge less, but it’s less stressful for his patrons, since they’re not in the presence of the Great Jiro.
We get all kinds of interesting glimpses of the man’s life, too. His father’s business failed and he was forced to find his own way at the age of nine. He had some role in WWII, though I’m not really sure what it was. We see something like a grade school reunion—Japanese people live a long time!—and find out he was a bit of a rebellious bully.
Overall, it’s an incredibly charming film about and joy, and even if you don’t like sushi, you’ll want some after watching this. The Boy and I both heartily approved.