We all have our food movies. "Babette's Feast" made us long for turtle soup and quail in puff pastry. "Eat Drink Man Woman" provoked an aching for whole roasted fish and winter melon soup. "Big Night"? We wanted a timpano the size of a truck tire.
But even though "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" may make one's mouth water for the nutty tang of sea urchin roe or the pliant delights of maguro (lean tuna), it is a movie, like its subject, whose aims go well beyond gluttony. Eighty-five-year-old Jiro Ono, the only sushi chef to ever get three stars from the Michelin dining guide, has aspired to raise sushi-making beyond mere human endeavor, and has done it in a 10-seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, where reservations must be made months in advance and a 30-minute dinner costs at least $300. No one, it seems, has ever complained.
They wouldn't dare. Part of the charm, if that's the word, of David Gelb's devotional documentary is Ono himself, an austere obsessive who brooks no mischief, takes no special orders and doesn't even have a menu. You eat what he gives you, which via the minds and palates of the world's more prestigious authorities has been deemed the best sushi in the world.
Gelb, clearly a bit of an obsessive himself, shows how Jiro does it, and how he's able to do it, through a complete devotion to craft, an unequaled network of contacts built up over years (which has provided him access to the world's best fish and rice) and a constitutional inability to accept anything as good enough. As exhausting as Jiro may be, he's also inspiring.
PLOT Eighty-five-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono strives for perfection, not knowing where it is. RATING PG (mild thematic elements, brief smoking)
CAST Jiro Ono, Yashikazu Ono
BOTTOM LINE Elegant, precise documentary tries to capture the gemlike qualities of its subject's work, and largely succeeds.