If it wasn’t already taken, I might’ve called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” “The Master.” Here is a cute documentary about the best sushi chef in all of Tokyo, and yet through little pieces of fish it examines the idea of mastery and the endless pursuit for it.
Jiro Ono is an 85-year old sushi chef, or shokunin, with a small restaurant in Tokyo. Jiro only serves sushi, no appetizers or drinks. If you’re a fast eater, a meal may be done in 15 minutes. This gets you about 20 pieces of sushi. There are also only 10 seats at a short bar inside, and Jiro stands with assertive patience as he waits for you to eat. Some feel it’s a scary, intimidating experience. But at a starting price of 30,000 yen, or roughly $360, it’s also scary good.
Jiro runs the only restaurant of his size that has received a perfect three star rating from the Michelin Guide, which quite literally suggests traveling across countries to try this sushi. Food journalists all agree that he’s the best, that you never have a lackluster piece of sushi while you’re there, and that what he does is tantamount to an art form.
The film feels the same way, editing together Jiro and his team massaging an octopus, cooking rice or delicately placing sushi on the plate in slow motion and to classical music with true, visual virtuosity.
It begins to get at the mentality that governs all Japanese culture, not that you should simply enjoy your job but that you should become a master of it. Jiro has been working all his life to improve upon the art his teachers believed to have mastered. Now he even expects mastery from those he works with, employing fish vendors who are the utmost experts on a given fish and requiring apprenticeships that last for 10 years before you’re even allowed to cook the eggs.
But Jiro is just a simple, nice man. Whether or not his sushi really is the best, his legacy has surpassed it. One employee explains that if Jiro’s son were equally as good as his father, he would still be seen as inferior. Only if he became twice as good could they be equals in spirit. That’s the nature of mastery.