★★★★☆David Gelb's study of one of the greatest living sushi shokunin, Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012), may appear like an unnecessary documentary to appear amongst the winter schedule. However, behind this elegantly composed study of Japanese culinary culture lies a heartwarming tale of empathy and a serene meditation on contemporary values. At 85 years old, Jiro Ono is as sprightly an octogenarian as you're ever likely to meet - not that his sobering attitude whilst working would lead you to such a conclusion. He's worked as a sushi chef for over 70 years,wholeheartedly believing that the secret to a blissful life is dedicating yourself to mastering your art.
Jiro's two sons have also followed in his footsteps. Yet any notions they may have of usurping their father's position as the head chef of his three Michelin star restaurant (the highest honour awarded in the culinary world), will have to wait - with Jiro so galvanised by his work that he looks like a man who could continue well into his centenary year. Director Gelb gives us an insight not just into the man behind this revolutionary restaurant (which despite its lofty status still only has ten seats, with a month-long waiting list to match), but also subtly unearths the true meaning of perfectionism.
More than just a highbrow documentary on the eating habits of the elite, Jiro Dreams of Sushi also acts as a window into contemporary Japanese values. Gelb highlights just how the ethics of previous generations are passed along through the blood lines, culminating in a country that whilst seen as a pioneering force in originality and ingenuity remains strong to its historic roots. Jiro's hunger to be the best also poses the question of whether the impossible is possible; namely, is it every achievable to reach the top of your chosen profession, or does such an accolade simply mean you've run out of ideas?
Commendably, Gelb's film doesn't forget to highlight the issue of sustainable fishing (a genuine professional threat to Jiro and his family). However, even this vital message is somewhat diluted by the sheer uplifting aura which surrounds this decidedly gentle film. Jiro Dreams of Sushi may seem like a film that demands an educated palette for seafood to be enjoyed, however this sumptuous study of art, creation and inner happiness is a taste we should all try to acquire.
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