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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Early screening shows ‘Jiro Dreams’ dreams big

Published: February 10, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” director David Gelb’s film combining his love of sushi and filming, premiered this Thursday at Brandeis two months before it officially opens in Boston. The documentary, which originally was screened at the Berlin Film Festival, centers on an 85-year-old Japanese man named Jiro, a legend in sushi making.

Jiro, at 85, works constantly, insisting that if he retired he would only “be bored.” The film opens with Jiro’s life philosophy: “You have to fall in love with your work. Dedicate your life to mastering your skill.” Jiro is a perfectionist, following his own motto to the extreme. Even though Jiro left his home at age seven and started from nothing, nowadays, tables at his restaurant have to be booked a month in advance. The starting price for a sushi meal is 30,000 yen (equal to $300 or $400). Jiro is his own worst critic: Others cite him as being extremely hard on himself, a strong promoter of self-discipline. Jiro claims he “dreams of sushi,” which indeed he must, since he has created new and exquisite sushi dishes unequal to anything else in the world.

While the documentary is partly a tribute to Jiro’s skill and to sushi itself, it takes on a more humane tone when describing Jiro’s relationship with his sons. Jiro has two sons, Yoshikazu, who works with him, and younger Takashi, who opened his own sushi restaurant. While both sons expressed desires to go to college, Jiro declared they should both enter the sushi business. Though Yoshikazu started his training at 19 and is now 50, he still works under his father.

People doubt that Yoshikazu will be able to carry on his father’s dynasty, restaurant critics citing that “sometimes if the father is too successful it dooms the son.” Since Yoshikazu is the older son, it is expected per tradition that he will carry on his father’s work, while Takashi is allowed to open his own restaurant with a “more relaxed atmosphere.” Although Takashi has a wife and three children, the director calls Yoshikazu a “sushi monk,” his life dedicated to pleasing his father.

Though the documentary does raise questions about the extreme pressures placed on Yoshikazu, he insists that he is happy and feels that he needs to continue his father’s tradition. The documentary plays both sides of the field: While it shows Yoshikazu’s losses, it also explores his deeply rooted relationship with his father. While Jiro was a “stranger” to his sons when they were growing up, director Gelb ingeniously includes scenes showing how close he and his son have become, as Yoshikazu teases his father gently.

While Jiro was never easy on his sons, the film manages to show both the positives and negatives of their upbringing. Gelb wields his camera so it displays humanity in all its forms by explaining the difficult father-son relationship.

The reason “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” succeeds is because it is not just a food-network special on how to make good sushi, or even an exploration of a father-son dynamic; it expands itself even further to cover environmental issues. Jiro mourns how current types of fish are hard to get, for overfishing has lead to a shortage of fish. Since the popularity of sushi has exploded, it has led to catching younger and younger fish, and not letting the fish repopulate. Yoshikazu expresses his concern for the ocean, for not only does it provide his lifestyle but it has deep connections to all life. It is by choosing to include scenes like this and by tackling these tough topics in environmental conservation that Gelb transforms his film into one that is even more respected, and deserves acclaim.

Brandeis’ screening of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” was made more unique by the question and answer following the film with the director. David Gelb is a