I wonder if Lincoln Park sushi bars will see an uptick in customers this weekend following Landmark's screenings of David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about 85-year-old Jiro Ono, the impassive master shokunin of Tokyo's subterranean ten-seat Sukiyabashi Jiro who's widely held to be the ultimate practitioner of the craft.
And how disappointed viewers will be if they expect to encounter anything remotely close to the impossible standard set by Jiro, whose minimal presentation of the most perfect products available (his rice supplier won't sell certain varieties to anyone but him) and hypervigilant attention to detail (his apprentices massage octopus for 50 minutes before service) are the superficial concerns of the film.
The slo-mo shots of Jiro forming nigiri set to a classical soundtrack are beguiling, and in contrast to the scene at Toyko's enormous Tsukiji fish market, particularly the tuna auction where massive bluefins lay on pallets to be haggled over by the world's most discriminating fish buyers (Jiro's tuna vendor is almost the badass he is). The film would be irresponsible if it didn't take this opportunity to address the part the our insatiable appetite for sushi—whet in the 80s by the invention of the California roll—plays in the catastrophic depletion of the oceans. Sukiyabashi Jiro is one of the most expensive sushi restaurants in operation, but its master and his cohort lament that sushi's cheapness and ubiquity (hello Walgreen's) threaten not just the existence of premium-quality fish, but an entire way of life.
But like other recent culinary documentaries (Kings of Pastry, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, Three Stars) that combine food porn with hagiography of artists whose obsessive pursuit of perfection borders on the supermortal, what's most interesting are the lives of those who labor in their shadows. “Jiro's ghost will always be there, watching,” observes one interview subject, contemplating the chef's eventual passing and its effect on his fiftysomething son, who's expected to follow in his father's footsteps though he'll never be perceived as his equal. 2011, 83 minutes, PG. Click here for showtimes.