A New Kind of Fish Tale

‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ chronicles one Tokyo chef’s lifelong pursuit of perfection at his craft

March 22, 2012

Jiro Ono, the owner of Tokyo’s exclusive Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza restaurant, was still hard at work at the age of 85 in 2010, when “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” was filmed.

To eat at Tokyo’s Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza — considered by many to be the greatest sushi restaurant in the world — you’ll need to do all of the following: speak Japanese (or have a friend who does), make a reservation up to a year in advance, locate the tiny eatery inside a Tokyo subway station and, once you’re there, shell out nearly $400. Your meal of a lifetime will consist of about 20 pieces of sushi and be over in about half an hour.

The new doc “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” in local theaters Friday, will get you there without all that hassle. (Alas, you’re on your own for the sushi.) Director David Gelb explores the man behind Sukiyabashi Jiro, proprietor Jiro Ono, and his lifelong passion for his craft.

What made you focus on Jiro Ono?
I was going to shoot four different sushi chefs from different places. But Jiro himself is such a compelling, inspiring and charismatic character with an incredibly interesting life story. And on top of that, he works side by side with his son. I thought, “This goes beyond just sushi; now it’s about family and the quest for perfection and hard work.”

Will Jiro ever succeed at achieving perfection in his job?
I would say no, because that’s part of his whole philosophy: You pursue perfection even though it’s impossible. The closer to the finish line, the farther away the finish line becomes.

Did you worry at all about how well his sushi would translate to film?
No. In fact, filming the sushi was one of the things I was most excited about; I knew that it would be beautiful. It almost looks like jewelry when Jiro places it on the plate. I chose to focus on what would appear to be the most delicious part of the sushi, be it the glistening of the fat on tuna or the shininess of the mackerel.

Is sushi misunderstood here in the U.S.?
The biggest misunderstanding is the idea that sushi is something you eat maybe three or four times a week. People are eating sushi way too often. It’s a delicacy. What I suggest to people is to eat sushi a lot less often but pay a lot more.

How much sushi did you eat while making the film?
My accountant probably doesn’t want me to say.

Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; opens Fri., $8-$11; 202-783-9494. (Metro Center)
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Katie Aberbach · March 22, 2012