The other night, I had the chance to attend a Los Angeles screening of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the documentary about 85-year-old Jiro Ono, who is considered by many to be the greatest sushi chef in the world. In a way, the film can be described as 81 minutes of food porn (that fatty tuna! those glistening close-ups!), but it's so much more. It takes an artistic look at the sacrifices and triumphs that come with dedicating your life, your entire existence, to a single craft. While here in the U.S., we might find it excruciating to repeat the same work every day, in Japan, it is an honor and gift to be able to do so.
For 75 years, Jiro has been living and literally dreaming sushi. It's his life force to keep improving his art. Octopus gets massaged for 40 to 50 minutes in its preparation. The flavor of the rice must perfectly balance the flavor of the fish. During the meal, Jiro watches his guests to see how quickly they're finishing each piece so he can serve them in the proper rhythm.
Director David Gelb attended the screening, and a Q&A session took place after the film. Here are a few of his responses.
How long were you there?
I shot for two months, but two separate months. One month in January 2010, I went out and shot literally everything that I possibly could, then I came back and worked with my editor for eight months, made the movie as best as we could with the material we had and then I went back to fill in the blanks.
Did you try the sushi?
Yeah. When we were filming the closeups of the sushi, we would wait for the other customers to leave the restaurant so I could set up the camera right at the sushi bar. I didn't want to bother other customers or interfere with his thing in any way. So they would put the sushi down and I would have the monitor in focus, and then I would just eat that piece of sushi because I didn't want to insult him by leaving anything there. And the sushi's incredible. It's amazing. It's just really, really delicious for all the reasons described in the movie, but particularly the rice and the way the rice and the fish kind of balance each other. It's really remarkable. It's the best fish, but on top of the best fish, it's the best technique for preparing fish, and then it's the absolute best rice. Then they put the sauce on, and it's just like this perfect balance. You're really tasting the purest essence of the fish, while the rice provides incredible temperature contrast as well. The whole thing is amazing.
What led you to the project?
I love sushi. And I wondered, how can I make it my job to eat the best sushi in the world? When I met Jiro through the food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto, who was sort of my guide to Japanese food and the sushi world of Tokyo, and I met [Jiro's] son, I just knew this is a real story. It's more than just the most delicious sushi. It's more than just this pursuit of perfection. There's also this family story. I think a lot of people can identify with living in the shadow of your father and so I found that to be incredibly poignant.