A sushi restaurant tucked away in a Tokyo subway station with only 10 seats and no bathroom may scare away even the most adventurous eaters. Considering the Michelin Guide granted a coveted three stars to Sukiyabashi Jiro, it makes for an intriguing story.
Sushi chef Jiro Ono is the subject of a new documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” which opens Friday in the Triangle.
Director David Gelb profiles Ono, a quiet, demanding man who seems unlikely to retire any time soon despite being 86 years old. (In 2007, when the Michelin Guide first published a Tokyo edition, Ono, then 82, became the world’s oldest three-star chef.)
Viewers are introduced to his oldest son, Yoshikazu, 51, who hopes one day to take over the restaurant. (The movie’s mild tension is the speculation about whether Yoshikazu can maintain his father’s standards after he is gone.) Viewers also meet Ono’s youngest son, Takashi, who opened a restaurant elsewhere in Tokyo where his father’s customers go for a more relaxing dining experience away from Ono’s stern countenance.
Viewers are introduced to the world of sushi where tuna sellers judge the taste of a fish by rubbing the flesh between their fingers; where a rice seller refuses to sell the same rice he sells to Ono to chefs at a local Hyatt hotel because they don’t know how to cook it; and where kitchen apprentices spend a decade before they are deemed worthy to make tamagoyaki or egg sushi.
This movie will captivate food lovers, especially the scenes from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. Gelb, the director, makes even the most pedestrian motions gorgeous, from Ono tying his apron to the chefs slicing raw fish. The sushi – iridescent slivers of horse mackerel, halibut and tuna perched on rice – are delectable still lifes.
The film’s only failing is that you are left wanting to know more about Ono’s early life. You get only bits and pieces: an alcoholic father, a child on his own by the age of nine, abusive apprenticeships.
The movie does succeed at making you hungry enough to want to taste Ono’s sushi that the travel expenses and the $400 per person meal may seem reasonable.