Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Oh good lord, drop everything right now and rent this if you care about humanity. This story transcends food. It’s about craftsmanship and perfection and it’s beautiful. It’s called Jiro Dreams of Sushi and it’s a documentary that will expand your mind and entertain you.

I heard about it from a client who made a point of sending an email to a handful of people after he had seen it. It was a little out of character because I rarely talk to this person about movies or entertainment and we’ve never shared suggestions like this before. That kind of made it stick.

So I looked it up on iTunes and was going to rent it, but I figured I’d check Amazon instant first. Great call, they had it and I could watch it without any incremental cost. I stalked out to the other room and announced to my wife that “we’re watching a surprise movie tomorrow night, on me.”

She was pumped. #notreally

So this guy Jiro runs a small (10 seats) sushi restaurant in a train station in Tokyo that has a three star rating from Michelin. Three stars is a big deal. There are very few three star restaurants and it means that the food experience is so great that its worth making a trip to the country just to go to the restaurant.

A meal there costs 30,000 yen per person, which is around $400. You have to book a month in advance. It’s a sequence of about 20 sushi dishes in three movements, handmade right in front if you. No appetizers, no dessert, just fresh fish with rice and some sauces arrayed in a sequence designed to titillate your taste buds.

It titillates because Jiro is a perfectionist who has been mastering his craft for 75 years (he’s 85 but started having dreams of sushi at age 10). He considers himself shokunin, which describes a person who has the artisan spirit and is singularly focused on bettering their trade until the day they die. Jiro has made sushi most of his life, he knows nothing else, and has no desire to do anything else. Sushi is his life.

This flies in the face of much of the lit I’ve been reading lately on brain health (like Guitar Zero). Actually, no it doesn’t, I’ll explain.

My initial question was this: How can an 85 year old person be so intellectually and emotionally vibrant when he’s been doing the same thing his whole life? Your brain expands when you learn new stuff, it’s like a muscle that benefits from being worked by learning new languages or taking up a musical instrument. This man hasn’t done anything different for 75 years.

Ah, but yes he has.

He constantly changes his approach to sushi to improve it. His brain gets stretched because he’s a sushi innovator, always looking for a new way to prepare and present it to make it better. He’ll vary hand pressure when pushing fish and rice together to get the best pack; he’ll tweak the point in his meal when he introduces fatty tuna versus lean tuna to heighten the diner’s appreciation of the differences; he’ll adjust the exact length of time he massages an octopus to maximize its taste and texture (50 minutes, by the way).

Fascinating stuff.

People were shocked when Michelin gave it three stars. It’s in a train station! Michelin couldn’t believe it themselves, but they consistently re-rate, so if it really wasn’t a three star, they’d change it. But when they returned, it just got better.

It was better than the last time! It’s always better than the last time because Jiro gives a damn.

Let that sink in.