Once upon a time, no one you knew had ever eaten sushi. Indeed, the very notion of partaking of raw seafood wrapped in rice and seaweed seemed bizarre to most Americans (at least to those not living on the West Coast) until relatively recently. This has changed, so much so that now there are dire warnings that the West's newly acquired passion for sushi is rapidly depleting oceans of all manner of fish. Be that as it may, this artful documentary about renowned Tokyo sushi master Jiro Ono is not going to help save Charlie the Tuna one iota.
With its exquisitely composed visions of sushi and the compelling personal history of tiny, wizened Jiro, the film is more likely to make viewers head to their nearest sushi bar to engulf and devour. Some foodies may even attempt to make reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro, the master's Michelin-rated, endlessly celebrated, 10-seat sushi bar in Ginza Station, Tokyo, which has become something of a mecca for sushi dreamers worldwide.
Director Gelb, who also photographed the film, delves deep not only into Jiro's background but that of his two sons, Takashi and Yoshikazu, the latter of whom is being groomed to inherit his father's restaurant. Exacting by nature and determinedly minimalist in his presentation, Jiro is so intense in his devotion to the art of sushi-making that even regular customers admit they're nervous every time they return. (Jiro is Kill Bill's Hattori Hanzo of sushi; "If it isn't perfect, you can't serve it," he says. "It has to be better than last time.")
Jiro is a father-son story with sushi ruling all. Throughout the film, there's a clear sense that the relationship between father and eldest son is fraught, and it's easy to see why. Jiro's perfectionism is a testament to his artistry but it's also made Yoshikazu regret, if only slightly, his childhood dreams of someday being a pilot. Apprentices come and go, and go, and go, but diehard patrons, among them Anthony Bourdain, only seem to return. If the nigiri at my neighborhood sushi haunt were served in HD slow motion and punctuated with mouthwatering close-ups, I'd probably go there far more frequently than I do now.