This movie is a must see for any of the so called “Foodies” out there, any fan of sushi, and Japanese culture. However this movie is also a must see for any fan of the documentary format, film, minimalism as both a lifestyle and art form, and music. This movie kind of has it all and a wide variety of people who might be interested in it. It’s not “the best” documentary as far as giving information on an unknown topic goes or getting you fired up for any sort of political or social struggle, this documentary is more in the realm of a work of art, something to be watched, appreciated and enjoyed, which is rare if not altogether unique for a documentary.
Jiro at age 85, is considered more or less the world’s greatest Sushi Chef. His restaurant, which seats 10 people, has three stars. A meal costs 30,000 yen, (roughly $250), consists of 20 pieces of sushi and nothing else, reservations are made a month ahead of time, it’s that kind of restaurant.
Early on in the movie the main food critic that serves sort of as a narrator for the film, explains that Sushi is a minimalist food. This is absolutely true, and something I had never thought of myself, but yes: raw fish, rice, seaweed. Three main ingredients and some of the pieces don’t even have all of them.
The minimalist and simplistic food is paired with a similar action on the part of the film maker, most scenes in the movie are simplistic, few elements in each shot, not a lot going on. Even in scenes taking place in the crowded fish markets are treated with a minimalist hand, where the filmmaker either uses a large amount of close up shots of the focal subject, or fading the background to make it difficult to see what else is going on. On top of that the background score is all done with minimalist music, a lot of Philip Glass compositions are used, and the grandfather of all minimalist compositions, the Prelude to First Bach Cello Suit. This piece is also used one of the special features which is a slideshow of all the different sushi pieces.
People look at minimalist art and think something to the effect of: “I can do that, I only have to worry about a few things” which yes, that is true, but the amount of dedication you have to give to those few things is far beyond what most people can imagine. When it comes to sushi the movie gives plenty of detail about this. Jiro does not ham in any of the parts of his business. The rice is meticulously prepared (he buys his rice from one seller, and the seller said even if he sold his rice to another restaurant, they would not know how to make it), the seaweed is brushed over an open flame, fish is checked with a flashlight before being purchased, octopus is massaged for 50 minutes, Jiro arranges the seating at the restarunte, the other chefs are trained for ten years before they can serve customers.
Jiro did not have the happiest of childhoods, and his life since then has been by all accounts pretty boring, as he’s done nothing but make sushi for 14 hours a day for the last… probably 70 years. Luckily the movie does not go deep into this, and instead focuses more on the detail that goes into the food preparation. It’s not a heavy movie, especially considering it’s a documentary, and it’s not very long either, I highly recommend it, even if you don’t like sushi.