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Jiro Dreams of Sushi(2011)
The story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the best sushi chef in the world. A thoughtful and elegant meditation on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro's life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world and as a loving yet complicated father.
For more about Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray release, see Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 20, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: David Gelb
» See full cast & crew
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray Review
Oishii desu yo!
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 20, 2012
The closest I got to seafood as a kid was Gordon's fishsticks, so my palette has never been particularly accustomed to the ocean's briny delicacies. The first time I had sushi, I thought it tasted like something pulled out of a drowned sailor's stomach. My gag reflex hit hard. I've been told this is an atypical experience, and that perhaps I was at a less-reputable sushi joint, with less-than-fresh fare, but the damage was done—raw fish is one of those foods I studiously avoid. Even during the two years I spent teaching English in Japan, living practically right on the Pacific coast, I couldn't bring myself to try it again. After seeing Jiro Dreams of Sushi, however, I might be persuaded to give it another go.
The documentary is the debut feature by director David Gelb, who initially set out to make a broad film about the sushi craft in Tokyo—profiling several restaurants and chefs—but found that everything he wanted to say about the industry is personified in one man, 85-year-old Jiro Ono, whom many consider the best sushi chef in the world. Japan recently declared him a "living national treasure." His restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars. Anthony Bourdain and French culinary legend Joël Robuchon are big fans. With a steely dedication to his lifelong craft, Jiro is what's known in Japan as a shokunin, a word that literally translates as "artisan," but carriers deeper, meditative connotations. For our purposes, it might simply mean master.
From outward appearances alone, you'd never expect a three-star dining experience from Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ono's restaurant, which is tucked into the basement of a nondescript office building in Ginza, Tokyo's premiere shopping district. The counter only seats ten, and reservations must be booked at least one month in advance. The price for the set menu—which consists of twenty hand-formed pieces of nigirizushi, served one after another in a concerto-like progression of flavors—starts at ¥30,000, about $380. A typical meal lasts less than twenty minutes. There are no appetizers. No frills. Jiro does sushi, and only sushi.
The elegance is in the simplicity, an aesthetic the film mirrors in its careful editing and exquisite cinematography. On one level, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is Grade-A food porn, with slo-mo preparation montages set to Beethoven and Bach and Philip Glass, shots of flashing knives making precise slices, and delicious close-ups of the glistening nigiri pieces as they leave Jiro's hand and touch down briefly—they have to be eaten immediately—on the black, rectangular laquerware plates that are the minimalist restaurant's sole concession to place settings. We learn that, when it comes to tuna, the leaner the cut, the more subtle and sophisticated the taste—a description that can apply to Jiro's working ethos and sparse preparation style on the whole. There are no extraneous ingredients or steps. His routine is pared down to the point of perfection.
He's been at it for seventy-five years, since he was abandoned by his father as a nine-year-old and forced to work just to survive. That sense of "Greatest Generation" WWII-era discipline? Japan's elderly have it too, and Jiro is a prime example. He doesn't like holidays because the downtime lasts too long. When he was presented with the Kakko Nintei "living treasure" certificate, he took the morning off but was back at the restaurant for dinner prep. "You must immerse yourself in your work; you must fall in love with your work; you must dedicate your life to mastering your skill," he says. "That's the secret to success and the key to being regarded honorably." Jiro stands in noted contrast to the country's dwindling workforce of young people, who have come to expect the rewards of a good career—high salary, vacation time, flexibility—without exerting the effort.
Working at Sukiyabashi Jiro, we quickly gather, is a throwback to the grueling, apprenticeship-style employment that used to be much more widespread in Japan, with Jiro doling out his hard-earned knowledge through discipline and repetition. Members of the kitchen staff train for ten years or more to be considered first-rate. Daisuke Nakazawa, one of Jiro's senior assistants, describes the difficulty of learning how to make egg sushi—a kind of uber-precise omelet—admitting how he cried with joy when he finally got it right and earned Jiro's praise. The goal is for the work to become its own reward.
Jiro is hardest on his own two sons. The youngest, Takishi, operates a two-star-rated spin-off restaurant in Roppongi Hills, while his older brother, 50- year-old Yoshikazu, waits patiently for Jiro to retire so that he can take over the Ginza shop. As good a sous chef as Yoshikazu is—and we find out that it was actually he who prepared the sushi for the anonymous Michelin inspector—it'll be tough for him to establish his own reputation outside of his dad's shadow. There's no doubt that he's proud to carry on Jiro's legacy, but there's a hint of piquant melancholy here too, a sharp wasabi-like note of fatalism at the base of their father/son dynamic. Could the path of Yoshikazu's life been otherwise? It's doubtful. Jiro "allowed" his sons to finish high school—in his own words—but he convinced them both to skip college and follow the family trade. This backstory, with its emotional subtleties and sense of disappearing cultural tradition, takes what might've otherwise been a straightforward, nicely prepared food documentary and makes it into a satisfying cinematic meal. My compliments to the chef.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray, Video Quality
For the sake of being discrete, director David Gelb shot much of his initial footage with a small DSLR, eventually graduating to the larger and more capable Red One camera once he'd established Jiro's trust. There is a slight but noticeable gap in picture quality between the two sources, with the DSLR material more subject to compression artifacts and low-light noise. You'll also notice that highlights frequently seem a bit blown out, as if the exposure should've been dialed down an f-stop or two, but otherwise, there are no real distractions here. Color is strictly realistic, and peaked highlights aside, the image looks great, with satisfyingly deep blacks and balanced skin tones. And although the shallow, open-apertured depth of field results in some occasional softness from misplaced focus, clarity is strong enough to make you appreciate the fact that you're watching the film in high definition—via a 1080p/AVC encode—and not on DVD. It looks to me like Magnolia's Blu-ray presentation is entirely faithful to source.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The disc includes a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and at risk of stating the obvious, yes, the entirety of the documentary is in Japanese. Since all of the audio was recorded on location, there are times when the voices can sound a bit thick or muddy, and you might notice a slight high-gain hiss on occasion, but none of this ever goes to the level of distraction or unintelligibility. For the most part, this mix does exactly what it needs to do. As you probably expect, most of the activity is constrained up front, but the rear channels do occasional get to put out some quiet ambience—like the lapping of ocean waves—and give some bleeding room to the musical cues. One of the highlights of the film is its elegant soundtrack selections, from Phillip Glass to Tchaikovsky to Bach, and it all sounds wonderful. The disc defaults to English subs, but those who might need or want them can also select English SDH or Spanish subtitle tracks.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Although it's certainly one of the best documentaries I've ever seen about food in the past few years, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is more than that; it's about fathers and sons—looming shadows and unfillable shoes—and it explores a kind of dedication-to-craft that's hard to come by anymore in any industry. The film itself is as exquisite and artfully arranged as Jiro's minimalist sushi, with a wonderful soundtrack, beautiful macro cinematography, and a smart, spare editing style. If you love fine cuisine or if you're fascinated by individuals who make an art of the seemingly commonplace, you owe it to yourself to see it. Besides some unavoidable source-related picture quality hiccups, Magnolia's Blu-ray release is solid all around, and includes plenty of delicious extras. Highly recommended!
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Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Jiro Dreams of Sushi - July 21, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Magnolia Home Entertainment are offering three members an opportunity to win a copy of director David Gelb's critically acclaimed documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a profile of 85-year-old master sushi chef, Jiro Ono, whom Japan declared a "living ...
• Jiro Dreams of Sushi Blu-ray - June 13, 2012
In July, Magnolia Home Entertainment will bring Jiro Dreams of Sushi to Blu-ray. This documentary introduces viewers to Jiro Ono, who presides over his cuisine from a sushi restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, cuisine that many believe is the world's greatest ...
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