To Ono, being passionate about your job is the only option. Which is ostensibly why director David Gelb presents Ono and his restaurant team’s meticulous process of food preparation with a mix of dreamy awe and fetishized attention to detail. This approach sounds fitting in theory. But in practice, it’s less than satisfying. Gelb films some prep scenes of fish being pared and then turned into sushi in slow motion while the film’s bombastic and melancholic score, composed largely of music by Phillip Glass and Max Richter, does most of the talking. That music almost single-handedly destroys the emotional equilibrium of key scenes that establish the film’s main thesis, namely that work in Ono’s world is both a dream and discipline. While its director’s reverence and vision is apparent, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" often feels overdone thanks to Gelb’s unusual mix of tones.
And yet, a big part of what’s so refreshing about Jiro Ono is how modest and self-critical he is. That endearing trait is also wisely highlighted early on in the film when a prominent Japanese food critic mentions how tirelessly Jiro works to improve his recipes and to keep Sukiyasbashi Jiro’s menu fresh. Jiro readily admits that being disciplined and experienced doesn’t always reap great results. Yoshikazu gives voice to his father’s theory about how ultimately you need to be talented to succeed when he says, “Studying hard doesn’t guarantee you’ll become a good person.”
But Jiro also actively encouraged Takashi to start his own sushi restaurant in Roppongi Hills. Yoshikazu tells us that, as Jiro’s older child, he will eventually inherit Sukiyabashi Jiro. So when Jiro encourages Takashi to branch out on his own, it’s his way of helping his youngest son to survive. There’s no excessive sentimentality to that decision; you can tell that Jiro respects his son as a peer by the way he tells Gelb’s translator that he felt Takashi was a good enough chef to start his own restaurant.
Richter and Glass’ pieces are also sampled in order to reflect Ono’s conflation of his dream job with his hard-and-fast discipline. But the pensive mood of Richter and Glass’ pieces don’t always gel with Gelb’s footage. By film’s end, Gelb hints that there might, in fact, be a reason to think that Ono’s artisanal style of cooking is endangered, namely the global over-consumption of fresh fish. But with two sons carrying on his legacy, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" should be a celebration of an artist’s accomplishments, not a premature burial. Maybe Gelb should have gotten Dan Deacon to score his film… [B]