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DVD Review: ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’

★★★★☆
Hoping to capitalise on the UK’s ongoing love affair with Japanese cuisine, David Gelb’s quiet, yet engrossing debut documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) – out now on DVD courtesy of Soda Pictures – goes a long way towards clarifying just why this distinctive culinary process has become such a worldwide sensation. Using 85-year-old, triple Michelin-starred chef Jiro Ono as his focal point, Gelb delves deep into the philosophy and tradition intrinsic to Japan’s booming sushi trade, from Tokyo’s bustling fish markets to Ono’s 10-seat restaurant, hidden beneath a Tokyo subway station, yet also the proud owner of an eight-month waiting list.

Having left home at the tender age of just nine-years-old (following a disharmonious relationship with his disciplinarian father), Ono began work as a kitchen porter at a busy restaurant before dedicating himself to life as a master sushi chef. Still working to this day at his own revered restaurant, Tokyo’s Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ono watches on diligently as his eldest son Yoshikazu is gently prepared to succeed him after his retirement/the inevitable happens. Revealing his unique philosophy on life and the secrets of his longevity over the steady course of 81 minutes, it even transpires that Jiro really does dream of sushi.

Crisply shot by Gelb, taking up the role of both director and cinematographer during this, his first feature, even those with little to no interest in sushi may well find themselves encapsulated by Jiro and his disciples’ breathtaking attention to detail. From the briny depths to Sukiyabashi Jiro’s slate serving panels, only the finest seafood is selected for consumption by Ono and his prodigious son. This infatuation with regional, seasonal produce of the highest quality also neatly links in Japan’s perilous over-fishing, with tuna and mackerel stocks trawled mercilessly to meet demand.

What we get by the end of Jiro Dreams of Sushi is far more than a simplistic serving of elitist food porn. Through Gelb’s keen viewfinder and Ono’s own ingratiating self-reflexivity, we’re offered up a telling slice of contemporary Japanese society, both reverential to its past traditions, whilst at the same time looking forward towards its country’s future – more specifically, the future of the seafood trade, and its ultimate impact on one of Japan’s most fashionable cultural exports.

Daniel Green