Michael Bergeron
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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
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You know how they always say do the math? Well I did the math and 30,000 Japanese yen convert to about 371 dollars. That’s the least expensive meal of raw fish you can buy at Jiro Ono’s sushi restaurant, a ten-seat establishment located in the Tokyo subway. Jiro, a wry 85-year old chef, has a way with tuna in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a great fit for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston this weekend and next, just witness all the films that play to big crowds of food aficionados there (like El Bulli or revivals like Big Night). Jiro Dreams of Sushi provides food for thought in addition to practical information about the art of preparing food. But Dreams unwinds like a double-edged paring knife of a movie that cuts, at times, in opposite directions.

We’re introduced to Jiro as he explains his success. There’s more than a bit of zen on display in the creation of meals. We meet a man at a Tokyo fish mart who can tell how tuna will taste by touching the meat. We’re introduced to two Ono siblings who in their own way vie for the family business. Jiro laments the rise of popularity of sushi worldwide since it cuts into his ability to constantly get the best cut of fish. We see a fishmonger carry a live octopus the size of his hand, the cephalopod wrapping its tentacles around his hand as he shoves it into a plastic bag.

For all its culinary sense of curiosity Jiro Dreams of Sushi sidesteps issues dealing with the Japanese culture and their fascination with harvesting marine animals. After The Cove, which Jiro is no relation to, one has to wonder how interesting a movie that explores a nation’s appetite can be when it avoids the greater question at hand. How has this trend of food preparation affected the ecology of the sea? In some ways it’s a bit like making a film about the American cattle industry without showing the reality of stockyards. It would also be interesting to gain more insight into some of Jiro’s customers who must indeed by high rollers with exotic tastes that extend beyond fish, eggs and rice.

If Jiro Dreams of Sushi bites off more than it can chew that won’t be noticed by foodies who are in for a treat, as they will surely come away convinced Jiro is a wise sage of the kitchen of life.

— Michael Bergeron