Sukiyabashi Jiro is a subterranean sushi joint near Tokyo’s Ginza Station. The place serves nothing but sushi, has only ten seats, and the toilet’s down the hall. It’s also the only restaurant of its kind on Earth to have earned Michelin’s full three stars, and a 20-piece meal starts somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300. The proprietor is one Jiro Ono, 85. He’s been making sushi almost daily for 75 years—Jiro hates holidays—and has no retirement plan, despite the fact that his eldest son Yoshikazu has been his apprentice since he was 19 and, though now in his 50s, has yet to take over the family business. Still, even if Sukiyabashi Jiro were to become Sukiyabashi Yoshikazu, would the clientele embrace anything less than sushi shaped by the master’s aged but nimble hands?
There are diverting excursions to Jiro’s childhood home and, most entertainingly, to a fish auction, but much of this documentary stays pretty close to the highly regulated lives of its central characters. Gelb shapes his film with handsomely diffused images of food, faces and urban spaces, impressively fluid travelling shots, lots of slow-motion and the celestial strains of Phillip Glass—for a film about simplicity and austerity Jiro Dreams of Sushi is awfully decorative in its storytelling techniques. Yet mostly it works quite wonderfully.