Matthew Lickona 2:45 p.m., Dec. 10
Compared to, say, cop movies or stoner comedies, really great food movies are rare. When they come along, little bits of what it's like to be intimately involved in cuisine see the light of day. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the story of the man who the film claims is the world's greatest sushi chef and a Japanese national treasure, is a portrait of someone who has lived an incredibly long life with a single-minded devotion to his craft.
The film is currently running at the Landmark Hillcrest theater, though it may not stick around for long at the small cinema that plays the rare and independent movies that seldom get major run-time in the mainstream theaters. Featuring simple, sometimes shaky, camerawork and a minimally artistic filming style, Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn't out to dazzle audiences with astonishing imagery; although the shots of the Tokyo fish market are fairly jaw dropping given the dizzying array of top quality fish on display.
The simple premise, giving a brief synopsis of the incredibly long and influential career of Jiro Ono, has an unexpected depth of feeling to it. Perhaps this is something that only appeals to one's sense of gastronomy, perhaps the shots of perfectly prepared sushi featuring the highest quality fish in the world simply tug on the heartstrings of anyone who has ever dreamed of getting a chance to eat the perfect meal. But the real beauty of Jiro is that, in capturing the perfect culinary moment, the film touches on the idea of the perfect moment itself, which isn't necessarily tied to food or to anything else.
It was another food film, Ratatouille, that recently painted a very vivid picture of that perfect moment. Near the end of the movie, when the formerly unflappable food critic takes a bite of the titular dish that sends him straight back to his childhood, his frozen heart melting in a burst of emotions summoned by a simple bit of food, the idea of a flawless moment crystallizes on screen. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the quest for that perfect moment is central to the story. Jiro admits that he has given up just about everything in his life to hone his art to the point where he can deliver the perfect, culinary experience to his guests, and he has no regrets about having done so.
Of course, the perfect moment doesn't come cheap. People make reservations a month in advance and spend about $400 on twenty pieces of sushi. But the seemingly unanimous verdict is that it's entirely worth it. Whatever moves us to go to such great lengths, whether spending 70 years trying to make better sushi every day or spending three weeks worth of grocery money on one meal, in the pursuit of this perfect experience, it must be something powerful.
And maybe that's why we eat in the first place.
In some way, every time we sit down in front of a plate of food, there is some hope that it will be the best meal ever. Usually, it isn't, but the dream is always there. It doesn't have to be flawless sushi. It could be a hot dog greedily wolfed down standing under a Mexican streetlight, or it might just as easily be an elaborate meal that takes four hours to eat. The perfect moment can come in any way, shape, or form. The film points out that there's no way to know exactly to what heights the art form can be taken. But there will never be a shortage of people, whether they wield knives to cut with or chopsticks to eat with, who think that chasing down that perfect moment is a glorious way to spend an hour or a lifetime.