In a tiny, ten-seat restaurant tucked into an unprepossessing corner of Tokyo's Ginza Metro station, a man called Jiro is quietly making the best sushi in the world.
Sukiyobashi Jiro has three Michelin stars. To get in, you need to book at least a month in advance, for a meal that will cost upwards of ¥30,000. You could be finished in 15 minutes. Jiro's place is not a restaurant to sit and relax. He makes your sushi one piece at a time, in front of you, and will watch carefully as you eat it–preferably by popping the whole piece into your gob in one go. If you're left-handed, he will notice and adjust the way the next piece goes onto the plate accordingly. Do you want appetisers? A choice of drinks and nibbles? A selection of entrees, noodles or curries? Tough. Go somewhere else. Jiro makes sushi. That's all he does, and all he's done for the last 75 years.
David Gelb's remarkable documentary explores Jiro's world in a way that the sushi master would find appropriate; in detail, with a careful eye to composition and content. Up front, we are presented with his philosophy. Find your path, and devote your life to travelling it. He is stoic, driven and never satisfied. At 85, he works with as much focus and energy as a man half–hell, three-quarters his age. Initially, you see him as a monomaniac, almost a monster. He has given his life to the creation of morsels of raw fish and vinegared rice. He has talked both his sons into following him into the business. His eldest is still his sous chef, at the age of 50.
Jiro may come across on first impressions as intimidating, scary even. But there's a dry strand of warmth and humour wound through him, a love for the craft and knowledge of making something delicious that has you mellow towards him. He cares so much about the food, about the whole experience of walking through the door at Sukiyobashi Jiro. That passion, that will to sacrifice so much to the perfect delivery of something so very special comes off the screen with such force that you end up feeling a little overwhelmed.
As someone that enjoys cooking, and in seeing the reaction of people enjoy that food, I connected almost instantly with Jiro, his family and the restaurant. It help that the film is so beautifully composed, shot and lit. It's an elegant, carefully constructed and thoughtful experience that lifted me out of Oxford on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.
If you're a fan of food, art, Japanese culture, engrossing family stories or tales of success against the odds, then you owe it to yourself to track down a screening or DVD of Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. A quietly cleansing and wholly engrossing piece of work.