Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Is it imaginable that a documentary might provide no context? Fiction can, and usually does, abstract from reality, and lifts figures out of social and political situations (this may be why film studies scholars are often so political - they want to reinscribe Hollywood characters into politics and some kind of social situation), but it seems the job of documentaries should be to inscribe human beings into the world they live in. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the new documentary about a celebrated sushi chef,  is all beautiful abstraction. The main subject, the titular Jiro, hardly seems to exist in Tokyo: he floats above the surface of the city on escalators and subways, making his way to his restaurant (one of the most popular in the world - if you want a reservation for 2013, make it now), a solitary figure above a bustling metropolis. We get little familial context: we don't even learn that his wife is still living until the final ten minutes, and his sons are felt less as family than as business partners. The movie's philosophy is bound up in Jiro's demand that the sushi only be filmed during its window of deliciousness, that rare moment in which Jiro's food is at its most succulent. These frames of fish are some of the most beautiful images I've seen in any documentary, but they don't bring me any closer to Jiro, and maybe that's the point. The movie wasn't quite what I was expecting: Jiro is not a tyrant, and you get the feeling his sons, compelled away from college to join the sushi trade, could nevertheless walk away if they wanted to. In the end, at the heart of this strange and lovely film is a contradiction: Jiro, the rebel who absconded from his parents to learn the art of sushi, ends up shaping his life around the most exacting and rigorous set of norms imaginable, all in the pursuit of genius.


Jason Roberts said...

I was struck by this, too, especially as it related to the location of the restaurant. Where the hell is that thing?

And the family dynamics are also fascinating. Elizabeth and I especially loved Jiro's irreverent joke about his parents when he and his son visited their grave.

There's a nice contrast between how complicated Jiro is as a person and how exquisitely simple he wants his food to be, which is, of course, a way to hide its complexity.

I don't even like sushi, but the movie certainly makes you want to take a bite out of it.

Steven Rybin said...

I really like sushi, although I am certainly not a connoisseur. I was definitely hungry when it was over.