Monday, January 20, 2014

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI: Can you love your job too much?

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The title of  the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not surreal, it's descriptive. The 85-year-old master chef the film follows defines himself completely by and through his work, down to the subconscious. Told by his father AT 9 YEARS OLD that he had no home to come back to and had to make his own way in Tokyo, Jiro Ono apprenticed himself to a sushi chef, and is now considered to be the finest in the world, earning three Michelin stars. The film begs the question, though, is it a blessing or a curse to fall in love with your job?

Herbert Marcuse bemoans the unsatisfying nature of work in the modern age in Eros and Civilization, a post-Freudian look at what makes people sick in a capitalistic society.

That's right. It just got Frankfurt School up in here.

Not only Jiro, but many of the chefs and food dealers featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi seem to have escaped this element of modern life entirely. Perhaps that's because they are not laborers, but artists.

With the surest and gentlest hands you can imagine.

It seems quite apparent that Jiro will die the instant he stops creating sushi, and his two sons also light up when they talk about their craft, even when describing the difficulty of working for their father, a man who does not settle for less than perfection. A tuna trader in the film, who could probably also serve as the subject of a fascinating documentary, explains his philosophy this way: "Out of all the tuna, there is one that is the best. If it's not there, I buy nothing."

Said tuna dealer deciding whether this is the best tuna.

The entire film makes perfection seem like a choice this simple. The sushi Jiro and his sons create (which is the only appropriate verb for it) are elegant and spare--you won't find a Halloween-themed zombie roll at Jiro's ten-seat, $300-per-person restaurant. But the dish has a history-- fish massaged for 50 minutes, marinated for ten days--that enriches its flavor. Seeing his devotion to making something beautiful that is by beautiful necessity destined to be destroyed was exhilarating, and the filmmakers do an excellent job letting the simple shots of sushi inversely suggest the complexity of its taste.

The chef's own history and interiority isn't nearly as interesting to him. Does Jiro have a wife? Who knows. Do his sons? Who knows. All that matters is the work. Jiro speaks to his sons, and loves his sons, through their shared calling and the beauty of what they create. But I was left wondering if families can live on bread, or fish, alone.

That's kind of heavy. Let's end on some more food porn.

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