Saturday, 27 December 2014

Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Some of the mouth-watering sushi that Jiro Ono presents in the documentary
Another documentary I watched on the plane was Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

It was made in 2011 by David Gelb, and follows then 85-year-old Jiro Ono, who is considered to be the world's best sushi master, the first to receive three Michelin stars, and Japan has declared him a national treasure.

The octogenarian may look elderly, but he is still deftly making sushi, being a strict task master to his eldest son and apprentices, and constantly trying to perfect his sushi. He claims that he even dreams about it, and hence the title.

However, it is a tall order for his eldest son, 50-year-old Yoshikazu, who many think should be allowed to take over the restaurant called Sukiyabashi Jiro, but Jiro wants to keep going until he is physically unable to.

Jiro watches elder son Yoshikazu make sushi
Meanwhile the younger son, Takashi was given the opportunity to open another branch in Roppongi Hills, because traditionally it is the older son who inherits the restaurant, but how can he when his father is still making what many consider as the finest sushi in the world?

We find out about Jiro through a well-known Japanese food writer, how his sushi is out of this world. And we meet a former apprentice who knew he had no hope of being promoted further and opened his own place.

Jiro himself opens up, candidly talking about his father being a wayward man, not being there when he grew up, and how Jiro fell in love with making sushi and has continuously learned about the culinary craft. For him it is not about being innovative, but constantly improving on what he has done or known before.

For example a live octopus is massaged for 45 minutes to ensure the meat is as tender as possible at the last moment, and how Jiro observes his diners if they are left handed (like himself) or right handed, and how fast they eat, and their reactions to the taste of the sushi.

Interestingly Jiro did not want his sons to go to university and insisted they follow him into the business whether they liked it or not. They seem to have accepted this fate, and in particular viewers can see Yoshizaku is trying his best to follow in his father's footsteps because this is tradition; he admits he wished he was a race car driver or a pilot in his younger years, but knows this is the best route for him.

Jiro's restaurant is the first sushi place with 3 Michelin stars
Others speculate if he can even replicate his father's talent, but one may not know until he really has to step up to the plate.

The documentary hardly talks about Jiro's wife and one wonders if it is because she refused to be on camera or Gelb didn't think she was relevant to the story. However there is a nice scene of Jiro visiting his childhood classmates and they candidly joke around about how Jiro was such a mischievous boy, and how he has turned out into such a serious yet passionate chef.

Jiro really is an artisan to loves his work so much that he thinks about it all the time. Most of us these days want to shut off thinking about work, but for him this is his lifestyle, this is how he believes he will improve.

The film also visits Tsukji, the famed fish market where buyers head there in the early morning hours to buy tuna. The older son talks about how fish stocks are depleting and blames it on cheaper sushi places boosting demand for tuna that he observes is getting more expensive.

Jiro says he dreams about sushi a lot
Many friends had asked me if I had watched this film and I hadn't, but now I understand why they love this documentary so much. There are also mouth-watering scenes of them preparing sushi in such a loving way, one can't help but want to appreciate the food.

A friend recently went to Sukiyabashi Jiro and tried the now 89-year-old's food and said it was an amazing experience. My other friends seem tempted, but also worried Jiro will scrutinize them when they eat and worst still, make them eat fast since the sushi must be consumed as soon as it is placed on their plates.

The alternative is to visit his son's restaurant instead, though other Japanese foodies claim any sushi place is already very good, why pay over $300 for a 20-minute meal?

The debate continues and now I understand what all the fuss is about!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Directed by David Gelb


  1. Would you like to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro? ;b

    1. Hi YTSL -- Probably not! Not as much into sushi as you are!

  2. saw the documentary years ago...personally I would hit his shop if I am in Tokyo...cost about 2400-4000 HKD for a meal in his 10 seat sushi place.

    YTSL, our host here probably need a raise her employer (which are Malaysian kowtowing stingy moron) to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro :)