Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Film #274


A documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his business in the basement of a Tokyo office building, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu.

Year 1, Day 273

BEFORE: So I am going with my plan from yesterday and watching another documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I’ve heard only great things about this doc since it’s release as it focuses on an extremely interesting man who, apparently, makes the best sushi in the world. I’m interested in learning about the man and seeing how his story is told through the documentary. And I’ll also be taking tomorrow off and waiting all day for the season three premiere of Game of Thrones.

AFTER: Sushi is one of those foods I’ve never really gotten. I’ve had it a grand total of one or two times, but aside from that, it’s stayed in the deep recesses of my extremely limited palate. So you may be wondering, “Why is he watching a documentary on sushi when he doesn’t like it.” First off, I never said I don’t like sushi - it’s just not something that I’ve had often or would want to. But secondly, not knowing a lot about sushi is all the more reason to watch a documentary on it - to learn. However, while Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells a fascinating story about the 85 year-old Jiro Ono who still runs his Michelin three-star restaurant, it can be quite uninteresting at times.

I don’t know how anyone could say that this story is anything less than amazing. Jiro Ono, 85 at the time the film was made in 2011, has made sushi for over 75 years straight, practicing and mastering his technique along the way. He makes some of the best sushi in the world and his ten-seat restaurant, for which reservations must be made at least a month in advance - and a minimum of 30,000 yen (~$300 USD) per person - goes through extraordinary lengths to make nothing but the best. You learn about the entire process they go through, from picking out the right kinds of fish, rice, and other ingredients, to the painstaking process of preparing the food, and finally making the food on the fly in front of the customers. The film does an incredible job at documenting this process in addition to the philosophy behind it coming straight from Jiro and his sons Yoshikazu and Takashi Ono.

But there comes a point where enough is enough. For someone who is not a sushi fanatic it was great to see and learn about this extremely popular food but at the same time it becomes tedious and dull. Yes, the documentary is extremely focused (Ebert called it, “a portrait of tunnel vision”) and that is representative of the subject - sushi is Jiro’s life and Jiro’s life is sushi. But it makes me wonder if this was not the best format to tell the story. Nowadays with the advent of YouTube, Vimeo, and other similar sites, you get lots of short to medium-length documentaries, usually focusing on a person with a unique skill or a niche business. Here are two examples of ones I’ve seen recently. I’m not saying that Jiro Dreams of Sushi would make a great short-form documentary nor that the current 81 minute version is inherently bad. I’m saying that my interest level was much lower by the end and having a more focused documentary may alleviate that problem - then again it may not.

However you look at it - sushi lover or not - Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a wonderful portrait of an extremely gifted and talented man who loves what he does. Everyone should be in awe of his dedication and commitment to making only the best sushi and the lengths he goes to ensure this quality. It may get boring in parts and your interest may decrease, but the overall takeaway is one of impressiveness.

RATING: 4 out of 5