Before Chef’s Table, the critically-acclaimed Netflix original documentary series, David Gleb was already travelling the world to showcase the fine-dining and some of the globe’s most captivating cuisine. Gleb, the director of Chef’s Table, traveled to Japan to shine a spotlight on a hero within the culinary world: Jiro Ono. He is most famously known for his absolute mastery of sushi and international acclaim. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Gleb reveals the hidden life and secrets of Ono and the rest of his team at Sukiyabashi Jiro, his tiny restaurant in the heart of Tokyo. Not only is the film beautifully shot and produced, but it tells a deep and rich story of Ono and what sushi really means to him.
Within the walls of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Jiro Dreams of Sushi reveals the magical experience of dining on what many food critics would name the best sushi in the world. The restaurant has ten seats and is tucked away in a mall in the middle of Tokyo. But despite its small appearance, visitors drop large amounts of cash, 300 dollars to be exact, to indulge in a 15 minute, nine piece course.
In fact, most of Gleb’s documentary and his portrayal of Ono’s story, can be described in numbers. A ten-seat restaurant with three Michelin stars. Three hundred dollars for nine pieces of sushi and fifteen minutes of food-based ecstacy. Despite being eighty-five at the time of production (2010), Jiro Ono still works seven days a week. But that is the kind of hard work required to be the best.
Ono’s life has been one of deep dedication to improvement and creating the best possible product and experience of sushi possible. Many would call such dedication obsessiveness. Ono has dedicated much of his life to continuing to perfect the sushi he makes. He deliberately teaches his apprentices, so they may attempt to make sushi half as good as his own. But try as they might, it seems that no one will ever surpass Ono.
Even his own sons have come to accept this as fact. The elder of the two sons will take over from Jiro at Sukiyabashi Jiro, when, or if, Jiro ever retires. The younger of the two, on the other hand, gets to run his own branch of Sukiyabashi Jiro, but still while under the watchful eye of his father. The filmography makes it very evident that this family sleeps, breathes, and eats sushi. For the majority of the documentary’s eighty-three minute run-time, viewers are inside of Sukiyabashi Jiro.
The next most prominent setting is Tokyo’s fantastically massive Tsukuji market where Jiro’s older son dutifully bikes every morning to buy fish for the restaurant.
The film dives into the culture and traditions surrounding Japanese cuisine, especially with regards to sushi. Gleb also presents social commentary about Ono’s childhood, how he was abandoned by his father and was driven towards sushi-obsession from this experience.
Both Ono, his sons, and the apprentices at Sukiyabashi Jiro discuss the tragic state of fisheries around the globe and what that means for their business and their culture. Viewers are brought in on a rare, intimate social outing with Jiro to his hometown outside of Tokyo where they glimpse into the life of the young boy of would grow to become one of Japan’s most esteemed chefs. And despite the cooking process not being the showiest of cooking styles, Gleb’s filmography brings viewers in with an impeccable attention to detail and curiosity to understand the sushi-making process.
But what the film does most beautifully is present the audience with an up-close look at the masterly of sushi that only Jiro truly possesses.