Either I'm getting older or have watched entirely too many movies, but lately it seems like interesting and unique entertainment is getting harder to find. Frustrated with the predictable, overused or fluffy plots that Hollywood is cranking out these days, I started exploring some non-fiction DVDs at my local library to try something new.
Hidden among the blockbusters on the library shelves, I found Jiro Dreams of Sushi and just had to take it home because really, who dreams about raw fish? It seemed like a silly title, but after watching this powerful documentary about 85-year-old shokunin Jiro Ono, I realized the art of being a traditional master sushi chef is anything but silly.
Ono's lifelong dedication to his craft has been bittersweet. His tiny, 10-seat restaurant in an unassuming corner of a Tokyo subway station is the first of its kind to achieve Michelin 3-Star recognition, an honor bestowed on fewer than 100 restaurants worldwide. He has been called a national treasure by the Japanese government and is considered by many to be the world's greatest sushi chef. However, Ono openly admits that he could have been a better father and recalls the morning his younger son frantically told his mother that a strange man was asleep in the bedroom, not realizing the stranger was his workaholic father who was rarely home.
Today, both of Ono's sons have followed in his footsteps and apprenticed under the master for many years. The elder, 50-year-old Yoshikazu, works alongside his father as part of the small team creating artful dishes that fetch ¥ 30,000 ($380.00) per seating and require months-ahead reservations. He also makes daily trips to the city's seafood vendors in search of the highest quality items to serve his father's guests. The fishmongers are honored to be among Ono's chosen, even as the market suffers from overfishing and trendy sushi shops are popping up around the globe.
The film is an eye-opening glimpse at not only the simplistic beauty of a single bite of food, but at the quiet, graceful man who strives for perfection that even he realizes may never come. He says, "Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."
Having never ventured beyond an occasional California roll, I was amazed at the devotion Ono has for something I'd never considered more than an exotic menu item. Also worth noting: the movie is entirely in Japanese with English subtitles, a feature I don't normally enjoy but was glad for in the case of soft-spoken Ono. The 80-minute film is a wonderful example that no matter what you do, do it greatly, and should appeal to anyone who appreciates good cuisine, hard work, chased dreams, or a little of them all.
Recommended by Priscilla Garvin