Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Ono is a man of dreams, specifically dreams pertaining to sushi of every stripe, succulence, and color in the spectrum. Jiro is a sushi chef who treats   His waking life and dream-life in equal measure. The two are one in the same. Around  his REM buzzing eyes, there is Sansho, that is Japanese pepper in place of common sleep. Jiro's sushi is created in dreams, step-by step, out of a curving fusion of function and design: part edible LEGO, part origami and always striving for perfection.

For 85 years, this is the state of Jiro, as we see him in the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi". Jiro owns and operates his sushi restaurant located in a nondescript Tokyo subway. He works  in constant motion, excluding a heart attack at the age of 70, during a cigarette break. His personal koan is "what is delicious?" This alone keeps Jiro awake each night. The concept of "delicious" is dreamy in itself, a weird unknowable, unattainable element, and something out of science fiction--- a riddle without an answer. 

 Yet, as much as Jiro is a man of food, he is also a man of fear. Within his starkly clinical ten-seat restaurant, rapid ingestion and sparse conversation is encouraged and there have been many nervous diners, almost sick with anxiety.  Indeed, the interior of the restaurant could double for any one of David Cronenberg's stage sets: all right angles and open spaces, less a dining room then a hospital corridor.

Jiro does not suffer foolish questions, or foolish customers. No soups or appetizers are served here. Just twenty pieces of sushi per person that arrive on the plate: a mouthwatering tribute to Mondrian which may or may not lead to a rhythm of Umami---that fleeting dance on the tongue between the  bitter, the sour, the  sweet and the salty. Yet more often than not, just as you taste Umami, it dissolves, becoming as immaterial as a spot of uncooked rice.

One sees Jiro as he is: a man cooking. He is unfazed by the motion of men, commerce or the cacophony of music. We see him at a shopping mall confronted by blaring crowds and the whine of a television.

Jiro moves silently past. 

Despite his impassivity, he is a soft curmudgeon. Jiro visits the grave of his parents and then says, "Why am I here?"

Jiro was on his own since the age of seven. His father abandoned him and his mother is only briefly mentioned. 

Only when Jiro is around the kitchen,does he come alive. Other than his two sons, who are sushi chefs themselves, Jiro is a one man army. He worries about the future, as he is in his twilight years with no new restaurant manager as yet.

Jiro simply works as each piece of sushi must be better than the last. "If I stop, or go, it's not up to me," he states with a half smile.

Jiro hates holidays; they get in his way.

He is ultimately a master, a controller, a Yakinori Yoda, and by the end of the film, (despite the shortage of tuna and the lack of a Jiro heir) only sushi remains.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" is a calligraphic dance upon the eye which examines the concept of sushi as an life-time occupation along with its salivary image. The film shares a similar music score with Herzog's "Into the Abyss" but aside from an antiseptic subway interior which is Jiro's home and sushi bar, the only existentialism is the legacy of this Master Shokunin, and how long he can practice his endless slices and folds.

And if you catch a seating with Jiro here, at The Tropic, he won't glare, and those scary and  anxious reservations,  placed a month in advance, are suddenly unnecessary.

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