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Where EAST meets the Northwest

A CUT ABOVE. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about 85-year-old Jiro Ono (top photo, at left), a world-renowned sushi chef who spends his days at his 10-seat sushi-only restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, is screening at Portlandís Hollywood Theatre beginning March 23. Jiroís eldest son, Yoshikazu (bottom photo), is a talented chef in his own right and has worked with his father at the restaurant for more than 30 years. (Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

From The Asian Reporter, V22, #06 (March 19, 2012), page 11.

Sweet dreams of sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Directed by David Gelb

Opening March 23

at the Hollywood Theatre,

4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Portland

By Maileen Hamto

The Asian Reporter

David Gelbís Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a love story about one manís lifelong affair with his craft. Not simply an ode to what is arguably the best sushi restaurant in the world, the film is an aesthetic, well-crafted delight that interlaces elegant sushi creations, heartfelt interviews, and a classical score befitting the works of a master shokunin (sushi craftsman).

Regarded as one of the best ó and most expensive ó sushi restaurants in the world, Sukiyabashi Jiro is located in a nondescript part of Tokyo. It has only 10 seats and serves nothing but sushi. Yet, the restaurant has earned the coveted three-star distinction from Michelin, an elite star-rating system that judges restaurants based on quality, originality, and consistency.

The ultimate gourmand recognition, three stars from Michelin indicate it is worth travelling to a country just to eat at that restaurant. Itís no wonder people from all over make a reservation to eat at Jiroís up to a year in advance.

Jiro Onoís sushi is simple ó no gimmicks, very minimalist in presentation. The three courses that consist of 20 pieces of sushi start at 30,000 yen (roughly $365). The average customer finishes a meal in about 15 minutes.

We learn a bit about Jiroís phenomenal drive: He was abandoned by his father at the tender age of seven and had been on his own since he was nine years old. His was a life of struggle and finding his way. Finding work that he was passionate about became his raison díÍtre.

It takes a lot of hard work and commitment to be the best in any field. For Jiro to achieve the pinnacle of success required working long hours, doing the same thing over and over again, and becoming fully consumed in the work. A workaholic and a perfectionist, Jiro is said to loathe taking any time off work. Any time away from the restaurant is too long. He only conceded a daily bicycle trip to the fish market after suffering a heart attack at age 70.

As a top sushi chef, itís a given that Jiro has an exquisite palate that can discern nuances in taste, texture, and flavor. Jiro complements his natural gifts with a resilient drive to do better than the last meal he has prepared. Like all perfectionists, Jiro is extremely hard on himself, is never satisfied with his achievements, and is always looking to improve his craft.

At 85 years old, he continues to oversee every intricate detail of the restaurantís operations ó from how long the octopus is massaged before preparation to the seating order of his guests. He takes time to taste every cut of fish that is about to be served, closely supervising the work of his eldest son Yoshikazu and an army of apprentices. Working for Jiro is hard work.

Beyond its focus on the restaurant and Jiroís techniques, the film also shines a light on the dynamic between Jiro and Yoshikazu, who has been working at the restaurant for more than 30 years. He is Jiroís heir apparent, but at age 50, heís uncertain if or when he will ever take over for his much-celebrated father. Although a talented chef in his own right, Yoshikazu struggles to make his own mark given the enormity of Jiroís legacy.

While the film focuses on the achievements of a master sushi chef, creating a world-class reputation requires a village. Jiro and Yoshikazu work only with the best fish vendors ó specialists and experts in different varieties. Daily trips to the fish market have strengthened these bonds over time. Even the rice used in the restaurant comes from a special source. Jiroís rice vendor refuses to sell rice to the Grand Hyatt, stating that the hotel would not know how to cook the rice properly.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is beautifully shot and any foodie would appreciate the care taken by director Gelb in capturing the finer qualities of sushi aesthetics. The filmmaker succeeds in creating a portrait of a man who has dedicated his life to his craft while giving viewers a peek into a multi-billion-dollar sushi industry centered in Japan. The narrative of Jiroís path to success stresses the importance of being in love with oneís life work and nourishing a relentless work ethic. Itís a must-see for anyone who loves food and art ó deliciously and beautifully handcrafted culinary creations.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi opens March 23 at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Boulevard in Portland. To learn more, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org>.