Today is the 91st birthday of Michelin-starred sushi genius Jiro Ono, who is still hard at work in his little restaurant in Tokyo (he even served Barack Obama in 2014). We thought this occasion was a fine time to mention the excellent 2011 documentary film about the man, his life, and the rapidly changing industry where he made his name.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is, of course, about Jiro Ono, who at the time of filming was 85 and still hard at work in a tiny sushi restaurant tucked away in the Tokyo underground system. It proceeds to explore his life as a dedicated sushi master, showing how he’s dedicated his life to perfecting his art. He’s also won a batch of Michelin stars and is considered the best sushi chef in the world so, yeah, the dude has got talent.
Obviously, due to his great age, there’s a lingering realisation his beloved restaurant must be handed on to capable hands. His son and a team of trainees certainly seem up to the task, although Ono has said he will only retire if his customers become too horrified by his ageing appearance (a comment he made partly in jest, of course).
It’s intriguing stuff – you get to see the sushi industry in action and, of course, the inner workings of a successful sushi restaurant are exposed. In a tiny little restaurant with only a few stools, Ono hand makes each piece right in front of customers and then stares down on you as you consume them. A bit unnerving – you’re not going to get that sort of service in McDonald’s, eh?
The Future of Sushi
This documentary may stand as a coda in sushi’s long history in the coming decades. With rampant overfishing decimating the world’s fish populations and industrialisation polluting the ones remaining with toxic mercury, this delicacy may not be on the menu for future generations. As such, we may find this beautifully made film stands as a moment in history before the tide turned on a proud, longstanding industry.
Overfishing is a subject briefly discussed in the film. Ono’s son talks candidly about controlling fishing, but when so many restaurants across Japan alone are competing for customers, the endless drive for more money means we could face a situation where the world’s oceans are stripped bare of marine life.
In addition to this, there’s the possibility of mercury poisoning. This is tackled head on in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, although the extent of the problem is barely scratched at. It’s simply sad to see human activity has lead to this state of affairs – future generations may look back at Jiro Dreams of Sushi and wonder how we managed to screw everything up.
This isn’t meant to take away anything from Ono and his achievements, however! Ono recently released a small pocket-sized guide to his restaurant called Sushi: Jiro Gastronomy. It’s a simple little book with pictures of sushi and a few rules on how to eat properly. We feel this is a good chance to highlight the following scene from Blade Runner.
As you can see, Deckard (Harrison Ford) briefly brushes his chopsticks together before dining on his delicious, cheap noodles. This is, apparently, an appalling insult in Japanese lore as it means the restaurant is rubbish and its chopsticks can’t be trusted. So, should you ever visit a noodle bar or sushi restaurant in the future, be aware not to do this or you’ll come across as a right old obnoxious swine. All right?