MOVIES IN REVIEW: JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
At the beginning of this little documentary, Jiro, the ancient sushi maker who is its subject says something that when I thought back upon it, just stopped me dead in my tracks thinking about how many millions of miles away modern culture has come from this concept. He says, I’m paraphrasing from my memory, that life is about loving what you do for work and getting better and better at it, and becoming truly skilled at what you do and always improving is the key to living an honorable life.
There pretty much is not a single word of the above statement that guides any part of American culture today. The idea that work is about doing something you love and improving yourself at it, rather than extracting the maximum possible lucre from society. The idea that being skilled at what you do and improving yourself has any value other than its commercial value…that we can be judged by how skilled we are at our craft rather than how high up the ladder we’ve climbed…that we all have room to constantly improve and are not just born special and gifted and entitled to have Michelin stars or fancy bylines rained down on us…the idea that “honor” is a thing…Not to get even more maudlin about it, but this is a blog about the end of civilization. Nothing in his statement above would have been remotely controversial even 25 years ago. Now not one word in his statement above is remotely an operating principle of our society.
Anyway, besides that, Jiro is a really beautiful little documentary about a man who has spent his life running a little sushi counter in a train station in Tokyo doing the same very small number of limited tasks and becoming the best in the world at each of them. I don’t know if there’s any craft in the world as precise and ephemeral as sushi making and if this portrait of Jiro and the many people who give their lives to it doesn’t make you feel completely inadequate, then I don’t want to eat at your restaurant. Or to read your blog.
I’m generally against most big screen documentaries because they mostly belong on the small screen. I’ve spent too many nights in theaters seeing talking heads interspersed with sped-up photography and mock-Phillip Glass music signifying dire warnings that the entire planet is likely to be unsustainable for human life before we leave the theater. Perhaps fine sentiments. Perhaps. But they belong on TV if anywhere. Jiro captures the beauty of the sushi business and the strange isolation it brings in a way that demands to be seen in a theater. So go do that. A beautiful film.