Monday, August 27, 2012

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

Regardless of how well-crafted they are, documentaries ultimately live and die by whether or not their primary subject is compelling. Jiro Ono, and 85 year old sushi chef who runs a small restaurant in a Tokyo subway station and through decades of dogged work ethic and single-minded focus has become perhaps the most respected and revered practitioner of his craft is eminently compelling. His sons--one of whom continues to serve as his father's second-in-command despite being in his 50's, the other whom has left to open his own restaurant--and their stories of living within the shadow of and under the strict rules of their rigid perfectionist father are compelling. The young men who struggle to come near Jiro's level and the day-to-day operations of the restaurant are compelling. The film itself is impeccably shot by director David Gelb; every frame is art with the tight focus on single pieces of sushi that present them as art, the slow motion sequences of the restaurant in action and even the moody shots of mundane scenes like Jiro riding the train are masterful. The interview subjects are well chosen from the expert food critic in awe of Jiro to the quirky fish market experts who seem like each have a movie's worth of material in their own stories. And yet, it's far from perfect. All the pieces are there and at most times the finished product is something to behold, but it all feels like it's meandering rather than making any real point. Gelb dances around the idea of Jiro's sons being shackled by their father's achievements even when they've assumed his day-to-day work without recognition being the through line, but backs away any time he comes close to making any real headway. There are interesting bits about how more commercial sushi ventures are destroying the aquatic resources, but again, Gelb doesn't dig deep enough. Even after spending nearly two hours with Jiro, I felt like I didn't truly get to know what makes him tick as much as that he's really good at what he does (they never show or even mention the boys' mother). A compelling film, to be sure, and one I recommend, but it had a chance to be even more and falls short.