Friday, May 11, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

A wonderful bonus of having my parents visiting is the babysitting.  This gave us the ability to watch a real movie in an actual theatre!  We saw the movie, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi."  It is a documentary about the life of Jiro Ono.  He is an 85 year old sushi chef in Japan who was awarded 3 Michelin Stars.  He runs a sushi restaurant with only 10 seats in a subway station in Tokyo.  Hardly a place that one would consider to be Michelin "worthy."  

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Tokyo.  Of all the places that I have been, I would still have to say that Japan was my favorite country to visit.  The culture is amazing and this movie brought back a lot of great memories.  The discipline and cleanliness of Japanese society is reflected throughout this movie.  Jiro still works nearly everyday and is upset when there is a holiday.  He learned from a young age that he needed to work hard.  He was told as a young boy that he "no longer had a home to go home to."  He realized that he didn't want to live on the streets so he made a conscious decision to work hard.  He was a rebellious child but turned his life around.  Today, if a child fails, their parents tell them that they can "return home" if "things do not work out."  He knew he did not have that option so he was determined to succeed.  Throughout the early part of his life (including when his children were young), they did not have a lot of money.  Through hard work and his drive to perfect his "craft," he now owns a restaurant which serves dinner (about 20 pieces of sushi) that is at least 30,000 yen per person (about $375/person).  People call months ahead for a reservation.

It takes 10 years to pass a sushi apprenticeship.  It truly is a "craft" that needs to be honed through years of experience.  You can go to college and medical school and it still wouldn't take you 10 years to complete.  Everything from preparing the rice to frying the eggs takes years of practice to master.  The discipline and attention to detail that Jiro possesses is amazing.  It really makes you think twice about buying "fast food" sushi or going to the all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.  The movie is a really interesting journey into this master's quest for the "perfect" sushi and his desire to pass on his knowledge to his two sons.  

A downside to him working hard was the lack of time he spent with his sons when they were growing up.  He went to work before they woke up and returned after they went to bed at night.  His son even thought he was a stranger when he slept in one morning.  The life of a sushi chef consists of long hours.  You have to wake up early to buy your fish at the fish market and stay up late to serve dinner guests.  A man like him is rare to come across today.  Even he pointed out that most people today want to make the most money in the least amount of time.    

An interesting side story in this movie are the "experts" that help make Jiro successful.  There is the expert in tuna, an expert in shrimp and even an expert in rice.  They all bring their expertise to Jiro to present him with their finest ingredients.  He is the first to acknowledge that he gets all the "credit" when he does the least amount of work (today he mainly puts the sushi together).  Much of the preparation done by his son and apprentices goes unnoticed.  For example, when you eat tako (octopus) in his restaurant, that octopus was vigorously massaged by an apprentice for 40-50 minutes to soften it up. 

A topic that I am happy they mentioned in the movie is the issue of sustainability.  Since Jiro has been doing this for 75 years, he has seen the effects of overfishing on his livelihood.  I'm glad the directors addressed this through Jiro and his son's view of sustainability.  Sushi was a delicacy which was prepared by skilled chefs.  Today, machines make sushi and it can be massed produced.  It really does make you think about quality vs. quantity.       

I do not like raw fish.  Can't stand the stuff really.  However, when I went to Japan, even I would have to admit that the fish is very delicious.  There is something about the care a master sushi chef takes with a fish that brings out the best qualities.  It is something that you won't find at the corner sushi bar here in the US.  I also cannot stand the wasabi here in the US.  I always found it to be a spicy nuisance.  However, in Japan, it was the first time I had fresh wasabi and it was tasty and completely unlike the pasty stuff we get here.  Not only does this movie make me want sushi (which I can't have until this baby is born) but it also makes me want to be more selective with the sushi I do eat.

This movie was not your typical action, blood and gore movie.  However, it was a great date night movie that will leave you talking about the many qualities of Jiro.  I would recommend it if you're looking to watch something different and something to make you think about what you would do to be successful.  

The video below was shot during our honeymoon when we went to the Tsukiji Fish Market and Auction (which was featured in the movie).  It is a place that I highly recommend and is worth waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning to see.   Most of the time if you're coming from the US, you'll be jetlagged and waking up at that hour isn't too difficult.  The fish auction is fun and just walking around the market is an interesting experience.  Vanity Fair published a great article about the fish market.  I've linked it here for your reference.

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