It wasn't until I heard several of my colleagues gush about this film that I became interested in checking it out. However, Jiro Dreams of Sushi has garnered such a strong positive reaction from friends and critics that it would be silly of my not to at least give it a shot.
I'm a fan of sushi, at least I think I am. I've never been to a really fancy sushi place, but I have spent more than my fair share at any number of sushi bars and buffets in the ten years since my wife introduced me to this particular weakness of mine. I will eat sushi until I'm physically uncomfortable. When there's no more room in my stomach, I'll pack my esophagus with the stuff for later digestion. I am, in a word, a glutton. However, I've never been treated to the kind of experience that we see in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and now my world will remain incomplete until I can make that a reality.
Jiro Ono is among the world's most renowned sushi chefs. From his ten seat restaurant buried in the Ginza subway station in Tokyo, he has created the world's finest sushi for over forty years. Jiro Dreams of Sushi follows its namesake through the process not only of making the sushi, but of preparing his sons and apprentices to become their own men and to pass on the skill of preparing only the finest foods for his customers. If that was all that the film was about, there wouldn't be much to recommend, but thankfully director David Gelb knows better and digs a little deeper to uncover the cultural and filial conflicts faced by these men of sushi, and the film soars because of it.
As much as Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a film about food, it is also a film about family. Gelb slyly sneaks in snippets of family history and the cultural expectations placed on Jiro's oldest son, Nakazawa, to succeed his father when he retires, which doesn't look like it will be any time soon. The fact that Jiro's younger son already has been given his own restaurant to run is a slight bit of a thorn in Nakazawa's side, and as much as he loves and respects his old man, the elder son is starting to age and wondering if he'll ever get his chance to shine.
Those moments do serve to humanize what could have been a very dry documentary, however, Gelb's focus is wider than just the family dynamic, he genuinely does want to capture the state of gourmet sushi in Japan, and that is not ideal. With the over fishing of some staple foods, if has become more and more difficult for high end fish brokers and chefs to find the ingredients they need. With customers requiring reservations over a month in advance, and meals starting at around $400 a plate, Jiro wants to be sure that he's able to serve them the absolute best food, and it's getting harder in his old age, rather than easier.
There is so much so love about Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It is so rare to find a person who so completely and willingly dedicates his life to his work of serving others, Jiro is a true treasure. This film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, all the while making my salivary glands work overtime as the camera ogles the amazing looking dishes from every angle possible and often in slow motion. If you're a sushi fan, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a no-brainer, if you aren't a sushi fan, there is still plenty to recommend here. A definite must have.
Magnolia Films Blu-ray release of Jiro Dreams of Sushi seems to be as good as can be expected of a digitally shot documentary. The image looks very flat for the most part, with particular problems with blooming in the highlights, however, that is a problem with almost all digitally shot features. However, most of the food shots are incredible and incredibly appetizing, with close attention to lighting and detail, the sushi nigiri seems to jump off the screen. The audio is mostly pretty unspectacular, as well, though the DTS HD MA audio does a fine job of reproducing the dialogue and in particular the orchestral background score, made up mostly of classical pieces. No major complaints that have to do with the transfer, just nitpicky stuff that applies to most low budget digitally shot docs.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is surprisingly packed with about an hour of quality extra material on Blu-ray, in what seems to be a trend for Magnolia releases. First of all we get a well balanced audio commentary from Gelb and editor Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer. they spend nearly equal time discussing the context and subtext of the film as they do discussing the technical aspects. It's not going to set the world on fire, but commentary fans should enjoy. Then we get twenty minutes of deleted scenes that take a further look into Jiro Ono's world through friends, apprentices, and family. We then get a segment called "Masters" which takes a few minutes to focus on some of the different vendors with whom Jiro works, all of whom are "masters" of their particular product, be it rice or fish. The last significant extra is perhaps the most brutal to watch, and that is a 3 minute "sushi gallery" which gives of a glimpse of some of the most beautiful looking nigiri you'll ever see. It is absolutely breathtaking and actually made my wife want to punch me for showing it to her, it made her so hungry. Stunning stuff.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a fantastic documentary that is more than meets the eye. I don't know if Blu-ray is necessary to enjoy this particular film, but if you're like me and will settle for nothing less, it's definitely recommended.
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