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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Watching a person who does something very well doing that thing is, I’ve always thought, a splendid subject for a documentary, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi is that kind of film. Its subject is Jiro Ono, probably the world’s most renowned sushi chef. He is also, at 85, the oldest chef whose restaurant has received a coveted three star rating from Michelin. (Fewer than 100 restaurants around the world have that rating, which essentially means “It’s worth taking a trip to this country just to eat here.”)

Jiro has been making sushi for more than 75 years, starting as an apprentice at the age of 9. His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is not flashy: It is in the basement of a Tokyo high rise, next to a train station, and accommodates fewer than a dozen patrons. He serves only sushi—no appetizers. Prices start at 30,000 yen ($370). If you want to eat there, you’ll need to make a reservation at least a month in advance.

This documentary by David Gelb won’t do much to make you a fan of sushi if you aren’t already, though he emphasizes the visual quality of Jiro’s creations. (Is it possible to find food beautiful without wanting to eat it?) Nor will you learn much about the preparation, at least not if you’re looking for tips, other than that some kinds of seafood are marinated and others need to be massaged to tenderize them.

But what is fascinating about watching Jiro is the effort that goes into making what appears to be such simple food, and the years of ceaseless attention to his craft. He has two sons, one expected to be his heir, the other in charge of a suburban restaurant (popular with patrons who find the elder Ono too intimidating.) Jiro prefers not to take holidays, and, per the title, is so dedicated that he has concocted new sushi in his dreams. He does not feel that his skills are perfect, and is always looking for improvement—maybe that octopus needs to be massaged for 45 minutes rather than 30. But when he works, he says he is ecstatic. Unspoken is the knowledge that the result of his years of practice will be lost to the world when he dies. (His elder son acknowledges that he will have to be twice as good as his father to be rated his equal.) But while he remains active, Jiro lives what is as close to a perfect life as anyone could hope for.

Watch the trailer for Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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