Monday, April 23, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

What makes a great poem or play? What differentiates a Pollock from the finger painting of a child? Taste and sensibility are the subject of David Gelb’s film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, currently playing at the IFC, about an 85 year old sushi chef, Jiro Ono, whose restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, has earned him a three star Michelin rating. And when you think about it, what better way to deal with the subject of taste then in its most concrete olfactory form since smell is the chief building block of taste when it comes to food? Dealing with sensibility on the level of food and particularly sushi making, which is so much about simplicity, at least according to Jiro, is like dealing with consciousness or esthetics from the point of view of say genes and DNA. In the film you see creativity working at its most basic levels and as a side note one wonders how Jiro and his oldest son, Yoshikazu, who will inherit his restaurant by virtue of the primogeniture that still prevails in Japan, eat all that fish? Apparently, part of the process of great sushi making is not only cutting and kneading and cooking certain fish, but constantly tasting it along the way. Chekhov once said dissatisfaction lies at the heart of all great talents and the Japanese food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto who is quoted throughout the movie comments about Jiro, “I’ve never met a chef who is so hard on himself. He is never satisfied with his work.” Jiro’s hero is the great French chef Joel Robuchon. “If I had his tongue and taste I could probably make better food.” So despite the seeming tedium of the job, there seems to be no end to a struggle for perfection in which Jiro describes himself feeling “victorious” when he discovers a great piece of fish. But though Jiro's talents comprise both those of the editor or critic and creator, Gelb’s movie makes one wonder if the concretization of the artistic process, as it manifests itself in eating or dressing (fashion) can still result in the kind of transcendence we still identify with high art. Can a piece of otoro (fatty tuna) produce the emotion of Hamlet? Undoubtedly there are sushi lovers who would say yes.

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