"In dreams, I would have visions of sushi," says sushi master Jiro Ono, considered by many to be Japan's best sushi chef. Hence, the name of the movie opening at the Tower Theatre Friday (May 4, 2012): Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This documentary film from director David Gelb is a must-see for food lovers, especially sushi aficionados.
It's the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat sushi-only restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. Given that some meals can be over in as little as 15 minutes, and begin priced at 30,000 yen (about $300 U.S.), a Japanese restaurant critic in the movie points out, "In that sense, it's the most expensive restaurant in the world." And yet, there is at least a month-long wait to get a seat at Jiro's beloved sushi bar.
The drama in the movie surrounding Jiro and his sons is best left to the pros: actual movie reviewers. So, I'll just touch on a few items of interest to foodies. For example, the octopus Jiro serves is hand-massaged for at least 40-50 minutes, in order to make it less chewy. And, in what was somewhat of a surprise to me, tuna is actually aged for from 3 to 10 days, not served fresh out of the water.
Scenes of purchasing premium sushi-grade fish and seafood at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji fish market are fascinating, as chefs compete in fish auctions to buy the very-best-quality fish, which is the only type Jiro will serve.
The sushi-making scenes in Jiro Dreams of Sushi are so lovingly filmed that, at times, the fish looks as though it's still alive. And, in some cases, it nearly is. The food cinematography is simply gorgeous.
To give you some idea of how beloved and respected Jiro is -- he's been declared a "national treasure" by the Japanese government -- there are conversations with some of his purveyors. For example, there's a guy who sells rice that is so special he'll only sell it to Jiro or chefs who have been trained by Jiro, because anyone else would screw up cooking it.
When forming nigiri sushi, Jiro shares advice any would-be sushi chef would find valuable: "Press the sushi like you would a baby chicken," he says. "You don't want to squash it." That's a tip I'll never forget.
In what sounds like very common-sense, but Zen-like, advice that I think chefs of all stripes could benefit from, Jiro councils," To make delicious food you must eat delicious food!" Amen!
Jiro's life is devoted to the perfection of sushi, not the accumulation of money. "Sushi shokunin [master sushi chefs] don't care about money; we care about making better sushi," Jiro says. And, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a beautifully rendered documentary that captures one man's quest to make better sushi. It's a simply delicious film.
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