- Movie Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
- September 29th, 2012
This is the sort of thing I put on my Netflix Streaming Queue. It's a gentle little documentary profiling a very old sushi chef in Tokyo, Jiro Ono. He runs a teeny tiny sushi joint; it only has 10 chairs at the counter, no tables, and you have to use the bathroom down the hall because his establishment does not even have one. He was 85 when the film was made. His sushi joint received 3 Michelin Guide stars. Apparently, fewer than 100 places worldwide have this very high honor. The 3-star rating basically means, "it's worth it to make a trip to this country just to eat at this restaurant." Jiro's sushi is quite possibly the best in the world. It's all he does, too. At Jiro's place, you can't even get any appetizer or whatever. If you want tempura or edamame, go somewhere else. He just serves sushi, and also only omakase-style, meaning that you get whatever the heck he says you get. That'll be $300, thank you very much. Make your reservations at least a month in advance.
I felt such serendipity while viewing this film, as if receiving a message from the Universe. I recently had a conversation with a friend about how obsessive I can get. I couldn't deny the accuracy of her remarks and I felt sort of ambivalent about it. But this film had a very Japanese answer for that issue. The answer was that there is no such thing as being too obsessive about something that is important to you. Whatever it is that lights your flame, go on and do it 'til you're satisfied. And when should you be satisfied? Never, that's when.
Practically the first thing Jiro says in the film is that the secret to success is to fall in love with your work and really devote yourself to it. He pursues excellence in sushi-making with single-minded focus. Even at 85, he is still slowly, methodically tweaking every little thing to make it better. The documentary also covers the people Jiro does business with, and they all have the same attributes. The guy he buys tuna from, that's all the guy does. He gets up at probably 2:00 am to go to a truly Japanese tuna auction. All he does is buy and sell tuna. He knows all there is to know about how to choose good tuna merely by looking at it and smushing a bit of it in his hands. Jiro buys from him because he has the best tuna at the best fish market in the world: literally the best tuna anywhere. The guy who Jiro buys other fish and octopus from actually says this: "We don't want to sell our fish to just anyone." His fish, his perfect fish, should only go to someone who can appreciate it and do the right thing with it. (Also, it was a highlight for me to see this guy deftly stuffing a live, squirming octopus into a plastic sack. Skills, yo. Jiro's apprentices will later massage the octopus for 50 minutes straight to tenderize it before it becomes sushi.) The rice merchant is even more clear. He has rice he only sells to Jiro. They have a whole conversation about how the rice takes some skill to cook, and they chuckle and laugh about it, two old Japanese dudes who both love good rice. The rice merchant explains that the Hyatt hotel people wanted to buy that same rice, Jiro's rice, but that he would not sell it to them. What would be the point, since they would not know how to cook it right anyway? These people were so deeply invested in the excellence of their stuff that they no longer cared about profit at all. They never said, how can I get that customer's money? They only said, is that customer good enough for my stuff? This is why, in the documentary, several of Jiro's customers said that when they sat at the bar in Jiro's place they felt extremely nervous.
I can't deny that there are some problematic aspects to Japanese culture. But I think it's pretty clear that they are acknowledged masters of the art of living a simple, elegant, beautiful life that is vigorous even into very old age. So I receive this message from Japan and from the Universe with gratitude. Devoting one's self deeply can be a beautiful thing and it can be transformative. So I think I'll stay the course.