Sunday, March 11, 2012

Movie Reviewlet: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Changing things up, R- and I tried the indie movie theater at Lincoln Center, and decided to make a sushi night of it, with the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and then Sushi at nearby Blue Ribbon. About sushi chef Jiro Ono who has a sushi counter in a forlorn corner of a Tokyo subway station, that recently received 3 michelin stars, who at 85 years old, makes him the oldest chef to win that distinction. Prices start at $300 per person for a meal that might last only 15 minutes (sushi is intended as fast food).

It really has this Japanese (and Chinese) attitude of Kaizen, continuous improvement, that if you just work hard enough at something your whole life, you can achieve godlike mastery. Like the ninjas who are so stealthy they turn invisible, or so light they walk on water, or bruce lee who supposedly could punch a man across a room with only one inch of momentum. Thinking about NBA free throw shooting recently, I've concluded that no amount work will let you achieve such superhuman abilities, there are in fact hard limits to human ability, given that the top humans with million dollar incentives to never miss, miss quite often.

Also, recent research in the economics and psychology of food and taste (by my friends and students amongst others), has shown that so much of what we call taste, is arbitrary and is easily influenced by mood and story and price. Price has a significant effect on the neural experience of pleasure, and even the expert wine judges at the most prestigious wine competition n the US can't tell when they are drinking the exact same wine, giving the same wine radically different scores in a blind experiment.

Still it is sometimes nice to honor this idea of human mastery and achievement (like Man on Wire ). In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, we honor Jiro Ono for achieving the pinnacle of the sushi form. At the same time exploring what it takes to make masterful food: from the obsessive fish mongers at the market to the apprentices who massage the octopi for 50 minutes each day, to his 50 year son hand drying every piece of seaweed on charcoals in a subway station hallway, to parenting (Jiro does not believe in safety nets, telling his children that once they leave home, they can never return...an interesting counterpoint to today's Boomerang Kid culture). All the way exploring the motivations of the craftsperson (like the engineers in Kidder's The Soul of A New Machine ) who are motivated by art and relationships rather than money.

But mostly it is about the food. Like the food manga Oishinbo, this is samurai eating and food preparation--food as Zen Mastery. And plenty of food porn, effectively using music from Mozart to mostly Philip Glass to bring the sushi alive.

Final Grade: B+
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