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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

July 22nd, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

It is rare for a documentary to reach $1 million during its theatrical run, especially ones that are not about cute animals. Jiro Dreams of Sushi earned $2.5 million. Already that's an outstanding total, but will it continue this success on the home market?

The Movie

We are introduced to Jiro Ono, owner and head chef at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny ten-seat sushi restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. You have to get reservations a month in advance and the starting price is 30,000 yens, that's close to $400 American. It's the only sushi restaurant to earn a 3 star Michelin review. Three stars means it is worth traveling to the country just to eat there. He's been declared a national treasure in Japan. This film interviews him, his two sons, Yoshikazu and Takashi, one of whom is set to take over his restaurant if he ever retires and the other who started a restaurant of his own. We also hear from former apprentices, current apprentices, a sushi expert, the vendors that supply his ingredients, and others. We see the sushi prepared from the buying of the ingredients, including a trip to the Tsukiji fish market. We see the ingredients being prepared, from the cooking of the rice, the preparing of the nori, the massaging of the octopus, etc. We see lots of sushi being made, and the final product being eaten.

It's a very simple documentary that is very effective. I only have a couple complaints, and the first first is rather minor. The film is dangerously close to being a hagiography. They do talk about Jiro Ono being a demanding boss and until his sons started in the business, he was a mostly absent father. He has basically forced his sons to follow in his footsteps, no matter what they wanted to do with their lives. However, even these flaws are portrayed as the reason he is such a gifted chef. Secondly, while we see a lot of food being prepared, we learn very little about the process. We learn about different cuts of tuna and how the fat content affects the taste. We learn that unless the octopus is massaged for 45 to 50 minutes, the meat is too rubbery. However, that's not even the basics. The film is only 82 minutes long, including credits, so they could have spent a little more time on the art of making sushi. I think this would have made audiences appreciate his talent even more. By the end of the movie, I wanted to learn more about sushi.

However, if the biggest complaint you have about a documentary is it made you want to learn more about the subject, that's a good thing. We really get to see the quiet passion that goes into making the best sushi in the world. And this passion is not just coming from Jiro Ono, but from everyone involved in the restaurant and indeed the people responsible for the ingredients. The tuna vendor, Fujita, will only buy the best tuna at the market. That's singular. If he can't get the single best fish at the auction, he won't buy anything, because he refuses to sell inferior product to Jiro. Hiromichi, his rice vendor, won't sell the best rice to anyone but Jiro, because he knows only Jiro can cook the rice in a way to truly bring out the best qualities. This lifetime of passion is needed to become the best. And Jiro Dreams of Sushi really allows this passion to shine. Even if you have no interest in sushi as food, this film will make you appreciate it as an art.

And now I'm really, really hungry. ... And it's too late to go out and get some sushi.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary with the director, David Gelb, and the editor, Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer. They have good chemistry together and offer a lot of little details on the filmmaking process. It's not the most high-energy track I've listen to, but it is very informative and the tone fits the movie very well. Next up are ten deleted scenes with a total running of 24 minutes. This includes some more talk about how sushi is made. Masters spends 19-minutes with four of the vendors we meet in the movie. Again, we learn more about the process here, so I really enjoyed these sections. Finally there is a two-minute sushi gallery, as if you weren't already starving for good sushi.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but it costs less than the DVD does on Amazon.com, so you can't argue with that price.

The Verdict

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the biggest documentary at the box office this year, not counting nature documentaries, which tend to lead the way by a huge margin. It is also one of the best documentaries of the year. The DVD and the Blu-ray are worth picking up, while the latter is actually cheaper.


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Filed under: Video Review, Jiro Dreams of Sushi