At first glance, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a foodie’s dream. A documentary made by David Gelb, it tells the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, generally considered to be one of the best, if not the best sushi chef in the world. The Japanese government has designated him as a Living National Treasure. His small, unassuming restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station with only 10 seats has become the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating. Sushi lovers from around the world go there, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.
But under the surface, it is much more than a movie about sushi. It tells the story of a Japanese man who has spent his life in search of perfection, while knowing full well that perfection is unobtainable. We quickly learn about his dedication, although some people from the west would categorize it as more of an obsession. Jiro is quoted as saying “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.” He goes on to say “I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty-five years old, I don’t feel like retiring.”, and “I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”
Yoshikazu, his eldest son who also works at the restaurant adds “Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.” referring to his father. A shrimp dealer at Tsukiji Fish Market also adds “These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro’s, you are committing to a trade for life.”
This movie points out one of the many ways in which the Japanese think differently from people in the West. In the west, everyone strives to be the “Renaissance Man”, someone who is multifaceted and capable of many different things. However, the Japanese will tend to concentrate on one thing, trying to perfect it. If I had to use one word to describe Jiro, in Japanese it would be ”頑固”（がんこ or ganko), which means “stubborn”. In the west, this word for the most part has a negative connotation. However, in Japan it has a positive connotation. To the Japanese, this describes someone who is tenacious, determined, strong-willed and resolute. In short , someone who is unwilling to accept compromise. These are positive characteristics in Japan and something that is desirable. Whether or not you agree or disagree with this way of thinking, the movie is entertaining to watch, and at the same time, an interesting look into the Japanese way of thought.
If you click on the following link, it will take you to the movie’s official website where you can find the trailer.