85-year-old Jiro Ono is possibly the greatest Sushi chef in the world. His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, seats only ten people, serves only Sushi, and requires a reservation made months in advance. Jiro works tirelessly every day, and his assistants and apprentices work even harder, hand-picking every ingredient and utilizing unique and complex culinary methods at every turn. Training with Jiro is an intensive ten-year process. He believes one must commit oneself fully to one’s work, in mind, body, and spirit, and he practices this belief on a daily basis.
Jiro Ono is an inherently fascinating subject; that much is certain. It would be easy, therefore, to underestimate what director David Gelb has achieved in his documentary about the man, Jiro Dream of Sushi. This is so much more than a simple portrait of a compelling subject. It is a fantastic film in its own right, a stirring cinematic achievement that stands among the best released this year. If you missed it in theatres, the film is now available on Blu-Ray from Magnolia, and it is an excellent release worthy of both the film and the incredible man it chronicles.
Gelb tells Jiro’s story with remarkable clarity, giving the viewer total access to Jiro’s restaurant, life, and methods. Any question one could possibly have about running a world-class Sushi establishment is answered; from the selection of fish, to the preparation of rice, to the equipment used, to the style of serving, right on down to way fish is cut, every element is addressed, and it never feels like a lesson or a lecture. Gelb treats Jiro’s craft with the utmost reverence; he observes not a ‘chef,’ but an artist of the highest caliber, and the film’s admiration for Jiro translates flawlessly to the viewer.
Many documentaries of this sort are not overly concerned with visuals, often because production methods give them no choice. Yet Gelb constantly composes images of staggering beauty, even when working in confined spaces, like Jiro’s restaurant or the crowded fish market. Nearly every shot in the film is carefully, gorgeously framed, capturing with unparalleled visual splendor the obvious majesty of Jiro’s craft and the subtle aesthetic pleasure of the places in which he works.
I wonder, in fact, if any filmmaker has ever captured the beauty of food this well before. The size and weight of each individual sushi is perfectly balanced in the frame, and Gelb even manages to capture the light bouncing off the glaze. Relating the beauty in a real-life image isn’t as easy as aiming a camera at the object; the process is much more complex, yet whenever Jiro and his team work with sushi, it’s impossible to miss the full, mind-boggling magnificence of their creations. The inconceivable level of love and care Jiro puts into his sushi is matched only by the attention to detail imbued in every frame of Gelb’s film. This is one of the most visually breathtaking documentaries I have ever seen.
What makes Jiro Dreams of Sushi a truly great film, however, is how far Gelb ventures beyond the process. The how of Jiro’s craft isn’t as meaningful as the why, and at heart, the film is a profound exploration of humanity’s capacity for artistic drive. Jiro, in fact, is only one character among many striving constantly for culinary improvement. His sons, his assistants, and his apprentices all share a similar drive towards perfection, working tirelessly every day to be the best they can be. It is an ethic that initially seems alien, yet as the film goes along, any individual with an artistic drive may begin to see parts of themselves in Jiro and his team. At the end of the day, they want nothing more than to continue performing the work that makes them happy, and to do so to the best of their abilities. Is that not what we all wish for? A career that fulfills us? Work that challenges us? A life that makes us whole?
The film is so brilliantly made that these questions become more than mere proverb. In particular, the struggles of Jiro’s sons – who work tirelessly in hopes that they will one day escape their father’s shadow – illustrate the overwhelming difficulties of realizing one’s dreams in tandem with the highs of satisfaction, and the dichotomy that drives these men reveals deeper truths about the human condition.
I can scarcely imagine Jiro Dreams of Sushi being presented better than it is on this Blu-Ray release. The 1.78:1 1080p transfer is gorgeous, lush, colorful, and richly detailed. There are problems here and there; digital noise is a frequent distraction, aliasing and artifacts pop up on occasion, and several shots are much softer than others, but this is all inherent to the source. The film was photographed digitally using multiple cameras, each of different quality, and that means there is an inherent limit on how “good” the film can look. None of these issues belong to the transfer itself, and on the whole, this is the best way to view the film’s stunning cinematography.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track has similar strengths and weaknesses. Because of documentary production methods, there are times when the soundscape is more muffled and limited than it ideally would be, but on the whole, the film sounds great. Dialogue comes through crisp and clear, and is consistently well balanced above other noise. The music – a rousing classical collection, one of the film’s greatest strengths – sounds fantastic, and the few moments when LFE kicks in are sonic powerhouses.
The Special Features are surprisingly rich and give a good amount of insight into the production and extended world of the film. All viewers shall be satisfied, whether one wants to learn more about sushi or wishes to hear from the filmmakers themselves. Take a look at the complete list of extras below:
- Deleted Scenes
- Sushi Gallery
- Commentary with Director David Gelb and Editor Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer
- Theatrical Trailer
This is a comprehensive, definitive collection for one of the best films of the year. I could not recommend Jiro Dreams of Sushi more enthusiastically, and this excellent Blu-Ray release is the best way to experience the film at home.