Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I got around to watching David Gelb's documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi after seeing it making the rounds on the web repeatedly. I've been on a documentary kick lately, and this has made it into the category of films I'd re-watch.

The film looks at the life of celebrated sushi chef, Jiro Ono, whose small restaurant serves only sushi and requires a reservation 3 months in advance, and who is regarded as the most masterful sushi chef in Japan. After watching, I took a week to see what resonated with me, and there are a few topic that stick, related to the nurturing of one's craft.

The themes I latched onto focussed on the conversations about Jiro's craft. He holds steadfast to a strong work ethic, and the notion that perfection can only be achieved through years of rigor, experience, and apprenticeship.

The chef has focussed his life on serving sushi only. Apparently master chefs around the world agree that his minimalist approach and focus have lead to a remarkable depth of flavor that is hard to match. Food writer, Yamamoto, interviewed extensively for the film, sums his work up saying, "Ultimate simplicity leads to purity."

What's valuable to notice in this story is the excruciating attention to detail and rigor, especially as told by Jiro's son and apprentice, Yoshikazu, who is to inherit his fathers restaurant. He talks about having talent (taste in this case), and says making a mark depends on how hard you work.

"We're not trying to be exclusive or elite. The techniques we use are no big secret. It's just about making an effort and repeating the same thing every day."

I think in a way, he is selling himself short when he talks about talent, because I get the feeling he is talking about his father, not himself. But there is something in the depth of knowledge that Yoshikazu has acquired that interests me. It's shown in a much simpler manner, as if he is the worker/doer behind the master, but to me this story steals the spotlight. In doing the work, he is completely subservient to and obedient to the discipline and to his teacher. Everything is taken seriously, and rules are stubbornly adhered to.

I like this idea of the acquisition of skill in the pursuit of being perfect, but there's a sense of sadness, doubt, and feeling of inadequacy in Yoshikazu, until the punchline at the end. There are interesting and at times sad stories of parenting or lack of it, cultural and familial responsibility, and the struggle and drive that comes out of necessity and need to survive. Throughout the telling of this story, it felt like the hyper focus and obsession cost dearly in other ways.

I think if anything, I feel humbled by the obsession with craft told in the story. I don't feel compelled to be as extreme in my own pursuit of craft, at the cost of balance and life, but there is something positive in the message about showing up and doing the work that is told so much more completely here than in any clever and terse poster. Definitely worth the watch.

Via Harry Brignull