Jiro Dreams of Sushi… and Change?

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What makes change?

In Western culture, we’re obsessed with change. We want new jobs. We want new clothes. We want new bodies. And the data only supports this notion. The average person holds more than 11 different jobs throughout his/her career. Over 7 billion dollars is spent each August at family clothing stores for the latest and greatest “back-to-school” wear. And there were over 14 million cosmetic surgery procedures performed in 2012 for general facial and/or body improvements.

But what if we’re missing it? What would happen if our fascination with change shifted to an obsession of same?

We wake up in the morning at the same time. We wear the same clothes. We take the same route to work. And we work the same job. Each and every day. Over and over again.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is this story. Better yet, it’s the story of Jiro Ono, owner and chef of Sukiyabashi Jiro – the world renown sushi-only restaurant in Tokyo that has received the coveted three-star Michelin rating.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like Sushi. I don’t like the smell. I don’t like the texture. I don’t like the idea. But by the end of this hour and half documentary, director David Gelb not only had me convinced that Jiro’s food might be the best thing to ever touch my lips, he had me searching online for some long shot means of experiencing it myself. And here’s why.

Jiro’s commitment to his routine and craft is parallel to few others. At the age of 83 (and as Gelb argues) Jiro has become the best sushi chef in the world – setting a new standard for sushi selection, preparation, and serving – a feat that has come only through relentless commitment, hard work, and repetition.

Jiro describes his philosophy of work and success as follows:

“Once you have decided on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering you skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

While this mentality might very well be more acceptable in Japanese culture, Jiro’s own sons and employees are quick to recognize his over-the-top obsessive personality.

To put in perspective, a chef at Sukiyabashi Jiro must work for 10 years before they are even allowed to prepare egg sushi. And as one apprentice explained, even after he reached this milestone and was able to create the sushi for the first time, his first 200 attempts were rejected by Jiro as unacceptable. And when tears eventually emerge (after 4 months of failed attempts) upon the realization that his work is finally worthy of Jiro’s approval, we realize that this documentary is not so much a story about same, but one of acceptance, and… (yes) change.

In fact, it is during a retrospective trip to Jiro’s hometown that we realize his seemingly astute posture and masterful work habits were not always there. Admitting his playful and rebellious childhood nature, Jiro comments on his evolution, “Even if you’re a bad kid, there are people like me who change. Doing what you’re told doesn’t mean you’ll succeed in life.”

And it is with this mantra that Jiro set out to shift the way the world experiences food.

Disguised in repetition, Jiro Dreams of Sushi ultimately teases out human nature’s desire for both improvement and perfection. Jiro is confident he can better his skill each day, even at the age of 83. Yoshikazu, Jiro’s eldest son, is faced with the pressure of living up to his father’s reputation and standards. And we, the audience, are left wondering if we’re even worthy to partake in the experience at all.