Jiro Ono serves up tiny slabs of fatty pink succulence, his nimble fingers working rice and fish into exquisitely compact morsels, molding the ingredients with the same rhythmic, economical motions he has performed thousands of times before, daily repetitions in a ceaseless quest for perfection. His many admirers feel that he has already achieved it, though the unfailingly modest, reserved octogenarian believes there is always room for improvement. Sukiyabashi Jiro, where he has been refining his craft for decades, is an unremarkable-looking sushi shop, tucked neatly into a quiet corner of the otherwise bustling Ginza subway station in Tokyo. It is an oasis of simplicity, a bar with just 10 seats, few decorations and no restroom. This humble, subterranean enclave earned the ultra-exclusive Michelin 3-star rating in 2007, one of the highest honors any restaurant can attain. With deep-set eyes, and well-earned wrinkles, Jiro resembles a wise, old snapping turtle — nothing less than a sage of the kitchen.
Nearly everyone holds him in high esteem, from critics to former apprentices to the vendors that sell to him. The shrimp specialist admits that he reserves only the very best product, which is deemed "Jiro-worthy."
A documentary as immaculate and precise as its subject, Jiro Deams of Sushi is a sort of celebration masquerading as an exploration, and is perhaps too admiring of its central hero, but that doesn't mean his life goes entirely unexamined.
For a man who has dedicated his life to the fruits of the sea, Jiro seems to have never set foot on a beach; indeed, a vacation would be anathema to him. He eventually is coerced to return to the mountain village where he was born, where a number of his peers survive with intact memories, an apparent testament to the virtues of the Japanese diet. His classmates recall that young Jiro was a troublemaker, and he admits to being a bit of a bully, not surprising as we learn that he was essentially on his own by the age of 9. He strongly impressed the value of diligent hard work on his sons, who were expected to follow Dad into the family trade. The introspective eldest, Yosikazu, would have preferred to have been a race car driver, but now works by his father's side, uneasily waiting to inherit the crown.
The family drama gives Jiro its spine, but it's the kitchen demonstrations that give it soul. This is food porn of the highest caliber; director David Gelb hovers over the glistening, semi-translucent slices of lean tuna like a deity admiring his creation. Foodies will be booking flights as they leave the theater, and even the fish-phobic will have to respect what can be achieved by one man with only the will to push himself harder every day.
Showing at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, March 30-31, at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 1, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 6-7, and at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 8, at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237.
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