Jiro Ono, 80+ years old in this movie, is a sushi chef and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro a small nook of a restaurant in Tokyo and a Michelin Guide 3 star restaurant. He has been recognized by the Japanese government as a living national treasure for his contributions to Japanese cuisine.
The movie documents him, his elder son Yoshikazu and staff as they go about their tiny yet obsessively maintained restaurant as it serves sushi and only sushi to a clientele that reserves months in advance. Meals there have been described as listening to music. An incomparable, sublime experience without peer, well described by what a 3 star rating from Michelin Guide means – the highest attainable ranking that merits a visit to the country just to eat there.
Here’s what I thought of it.
• The movie harkens back to a time when people sought excellence in their work and nothing but, as opposed to when you’re doing something for money or even in consideration of. Jiro’s generation sought complete and absolute perfection in their craft. Not just ‘good enough to sell‘, not even ‘good enough to be called the best‘. Just pure perfection for their own personal satisfaction. Sadly, seeking excellence does not necessarily mean making money which explains why many people who follow that philosophy aren’t as successful. Seeing him therefore makes you feel happy that people like him still exist while at the same time makes you wonder if such thinking – doing everything possible to serve the absolute best with little or no regard to profit – is really still possible today.
• You can’t also discount the fact that Jiro’s obsessiveness to his craft is greatly influenced by his difficult early life. Abandoned by his parents, he obviously finds refuge in his work. Whenever the movie talks about how he’d get bored during holidays and insist on being at the restaurant instead, I understand the movie is trying to explain dedication to his craft, but I also understand that that is what unhappy people do. Faced with an empty, disappointing life at home, they’d rather be at work where they can control things and have a hand in how things turn out. I know I sound like I’m talking out my ass especially considering the movie never said that, but I honestly know two or three people who are spectacularly successful in their careers but are the complete opposites in their personal lives, and I can’t help surmise that this is the case.
• A telling observation in support of this is the absolute lack of any females in this movie outside of a few customers. Where is Jiro’s wife, Yoshikazu’s mom? Or their grandmother, Jiro’s mom? The only instance was a woman in a kimono shown in a picture when they were receiving their Michelin award, but very fleetingly so, quickly zooming into Jiro and lasting only about half a second. If there was a conscious attempt to keep the females out of the movie, and I imagine there was because why wouldn’t you talk about them if they were still alive, I can’t help being lead to believe that a lot of their personal lives were unsavory.
• The movie overall effect is helped greatly along by Philip Glass‘ music, which in and of itself is incredibly moving. If you have time download and listen to his songs and you’ll understand that any movie you shoot in slow motion with his music is an almost automatic award contender. It’s amazing stuff.
• Tunas were enormous nearly a century ago compared to the baby sizes they are now, something the movie broached on. Another documentary I saw showed tuna positively the size of dinosaurs, which is possible still if we leave them alone for maybe ten years or so, a practical impossibility now.
• After I watched this I read up on the Michelin Guide and of course the many critics of it. Of interest is how many Japanese restaurants found the honor unwelcome as it unnecessarily added to their clientele which they feared might have consequences with their quality. It’s not difficult to imagine that Jiro Ono would be one of those who wouldn’t appreciate the award, especially since he’s happy with achieving his high standards per se and is clearly uninterested in either fame or fortune.
• Finally one of the best things I took from this movie is how it reminded me of one of my favorite anime movies called Initial D. While the subject topic and delivery are worlds apart from sushi, in the end it was about father and son, and how the father’s curious, almost cruel ways treating his son was in the end a calculated style of discipline, ensuring peace of mind for him who was sure that if he died that very moment his son would do well as he had taught him all he needed to know to survive. Jiro says so himself later on when he says ‘He just needs to keep doing what he is doing‘.
• Jiro is a well of wisdom via his quotes, many of which are here. The one I like most is “I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty five years old, I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.”
That’s it. I give this movie a 8 out of 10. I loved the chance for a peek into very unique lives and equally unique lifestyles and professions. Jiro Ono is an amazing person who lives a life completely different and almost in opposition to today’s norms, and you can’t help to be interested in him and his restaurant. However I can’t help feeling sad either for him or those whom I’m reminded of who live this kind of life. I’m greatly surmising here of course but that’s what the movie made me feel regardless.