I don’t get to see too many docs in the theater, but the trailer for Jiro Dreams of Sushi – not to mention the great title – was enough to get me out.
Following 85 year-old Jiro Ono, the “world’s greatest sushi chef” and owner of a Michelin 3-starred restaurant in Tokyo, this is a great example of a documentary that is more image-driven than any direct cinema or talking head-style. Sure, there are interviews that drive the narrative, but mostly director David Gelb explores the creation of sushi – and its relation to Jiro’s sons – in a quiet, respectful manner.
Here’s an excerpt:
The film features a lot of close-ups of the food, and the soundtrack – with the orchestral score and sparingly used kitchen sounds (a plate on the table, shuffling of feet) – keeps things intimate.
Shots like the one at 2:28, where the camera is counter-level and the depth of field is shallow are emblematic of the style. The camera frequently is between the position of patron and chef, as it tries to balance out director Gelb’s obvious awe and an uninflected narrative about kitchen process and familial relationships.
Look at the 2:55 mark. These are the type of CUs that are present throughout. Gelb allows the frame to linger just a little too long – long enough to see the fish settle onto its bed of rice and for the soy sauce to gently drip down the side. The next cut is back to the kitchen (process), followed by another shot of sushi in CU (this one is the Kanpyo-Maki).
This strategy – process, result, process, result – echoes how Gelb examines Jiro’s bond with his sons, Yoshikazu and Takashi. He laughs off the fact that (contrary to most upper-middle class American reasoning) he forced his sons to drop out of school and help him in the kitchen and that he was hardly present during their childhood. His wife is mentioned only once or twice in the entire 81 minutes. Still, the result – Yoshikazu’s inevitable takeover of Jiro’s restaurant, Takashi’s own restaurant – speaks volumes to the love between the three men. With sushi rolls you can tie an apron, sharpen a knife, clean a bowl and then cut to the finished product. With people, Gelb and Jiro seem to say, the process may be similar – Jiro and his sons cooking – but the result is less a close-up of a deceptively simple piece of food than it is a compressed film about silently complex parenting.
Here’s a link to my formal review: