Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

I had been waiting to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi for quite some time and based on the trailer I was anticipating an overwhelming craving for sushi.  I was also ready to be disappointed by said sushi since it would undoubtedly not live up to the Michelin standards by which Jiro was measured.  What I didn't anticipate, was being left unsatisfied by the missed opportunities of what (if we're being conservative) can be described as a "puff piece."

Jiro Ono is an 85 year old master sushi chef who owns a small sushi restaurant operated out of a subway station in Tokyo, Japan.  World renowned as a sushi master and recognized as a living legend by the Japanese government, Jiro is both fascinating and multifaceted.  He is a man who believes in hard work and seeking to excel in one's craft, yet he verbally espouses the value of a family which is robbed of his time by work.  Throughout the film we are treated to glimpses of Jiro's contradictory relationship with his father and his own sons but never allowed to delve into the meat of this difficult subject.  For me, this is the central issue of the film and it is almost as if the filmmakers have entirely missed it.

Much of the film is spent concentrating on Jiro's accomplishments with sushi, which are truly exceptional by all accounts however, never does the film attempt to delve into what motivates this man to make amazing food.  Time and again we are treated to shots of Jiro's famous hands and the routines that he follows.  Much is made of his commitment to his work but at no point to we see any indication of why he works so hard.  One is left to assume that the trouble with his parents that is alluded to on two occasions must be part of what drives him but with little evidence it is hard to make a case for even that.

So too is the matter of Jiro's sons, Yoshikazu and Takashi's left on the back burner after we are informed that in fact, Jiro encouraged his youngest son to open his own restaurant (a franchise location as it were) while he is happy to have his eldest act as a perpetual sous chef.  There are glimpses of a deeper, more passionate air but never are they explored as the filmmakers prefer instead to show beautiful images of freshly made sushi.  As with Jiro's complicated familial history pushed aside, so too is the obvious frustration felt by Jiro's oldest son overlooked in favour of a more acceptable party line, "I am expected to take over from my father, I am the eldest."

Ultimately while there were many wonderfully touching and very charming moments in the film, it felt like a series of lost opportunities that culminated in a lackluster finale.  The film has been getting rave reviews from most moviegoers and film critics alike, but for myself, it felt as though a change in structure would have greatly benefited the pacing and interest level of the endeavour.  While certainly interesting and worth checking out, don't expect to be terribly moved by this one.

It did make me want sushi though.

My rating: 2.75 out of 3 stars

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