‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ is entertaining and highly polished, with a clean aesthetic that evokes the perfectionism of its subject, Jiro Ono. At its best, it uses Jiro’s professional career as a window into his personal life, offering information on his family’s relationship with Japanese traditions concerning work ethic, professionalism, familial responsibility and expectation, and even environmentalism. Although no documentary covering one subject could ever be all-encompassing, ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ grants its viewers the ability to begin to understand one subsection of a different culture through two of life’s necessities: food and work.
These two topics allow for a surprisingly in-depth portrait of this famous sushi chef. At times, though, its reverent tone steers dangerously close to worship, which can be distracting. It stays consistently engaging, but even as I was enjoying it I found myself questioning if anybody on this planet has ever been as universally respected and acclaimed as this portrait proclaims Jiro is. Sure, it’s his movie, he can be the star, but it’s nice to have a little conflict, even in documentaries like this.
The lack of a conflict means that the film occasionally feels like it’s meandering. There are many gorgeous, lovingly edited montages of Jiro and his staff at work while pensive minimalist pieces by composers like Philip Glass and Max Richter bloom in the background. The connection is apt, with the montages and minimalist music seemingly representing the focused and diligent work – the daily grind and the minutiae that leads to the eventual triumph – embodied by Jiro and his restaurant. It’s striking and effective the first time through. But after a few these sequences, the glow wears off and you begin to wonder what we’re building to or where we’re going.
Mostly, though, ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ seems like a documentary about passionate people made by people who are passionate about their topic. It’s hard not to become invested in this tiny (and expensive) sushi restaurant by the film’s clever conclusion. Much like the sushi at the center of its story, great care has been taken in the creation of ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’, and it makes all the difference.