A few years ago, I went to a then-new sushi restaurant near my home, and I noticed that on the TVs there, the restaurant was showing Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Daniel Gelb’s 2012 documentary about Jiro Ono, the Tokyo man who is considered to be the best sushi chef in the world.
I wondered why this new restaurant would set the bar so high, implicitly comparing its own food to the master of the form. But then again, watching the movie certainly made me hungry for some good Japanese food. After all, that’s happened every time I’ve ever seen the movie.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a compelling portrait of a master at work
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a compelling portrait of a master at work. Already well into his 80s at the time the movie was made, Jiro is the owner and chef of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a ten-seat restaurant in a Tokyo train station. We learn about how he got where he is, his obsessive and superhuman work ethic, and his two sons, of which is his designated successor. (Ono, who is now 96, is still living and operating the restaurant.)
Gelb is a food documentary specialist who also directed last year’s Disney+ film about Wolfgang Puck, and also created the Netflix series Chef’s Table. More than anything else, the film features some great food, which is demonstrated using classical music ― a symphony of food, if you will. The film, with a running time of just 80 minutes, tells its small story with just the right amount of detail.
The legend of the place has only grown, largely because of the film. Barack Obama, as president in 2014, visited the restaurant along with then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, calling Jiro’s sushi the best he’d ever had.
While it debuted at film festivals during 2011, Jiro Dreams of Sushi opened theatrically on March 9, 2012, ten years ago this week and also, coincidentally, the day my younger son was born (I did not, alas, see the film that day, or even for a while afterward.)
The documentary debuted on Netflix that August and stayed there for long enough to gain a following, although it can now be watched on Amazon Prime, as well as Kanopy and Crackle. Its legacy is secure as one of the truly great documentaries about food.