For a long time now, I’ve been interested in learning about the lives of artists. My fascination partly lies in the hope that I can take something away—be it one’s work ethic, philosophy, or simply lessons on what not to do—and apply it to my own trials in balancing art with the rest of my life.
And I’ve been on a tear as of late, reading Ronin Ro’s biography on Prince, the latest memoir by Alison Bechdel (which is just as much about balancing art and life as anything else you’ll read these days), and watching Kevin MacDonald’s documentary on Bob Marley. Well, last week, I also watched a documentary about the life and art of a completely different kind of artist, a sushi chef called Jiro Ono.
I originally hadn’t planned on watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, as I personally condemn the overall irresponsible practices of the sushi industry. I realised, however, that through my job, I actually wouldn’t be paying money to watch it, so I deemed my viewing personally acceptable.
The film, after all, isn’t primarily about sushi, just as this article won’t be about fishing practices. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about the life, work, and philosophy of arguably the world’s most renowned sushi chef, and with good reason.
Nearly everything about Jiro makes him a worthy subject of a documentary. The man, at the time of filming, is 85 years old, and has been making sushi for over 70 years. He plans on not only making sushi until he is physically unable but plans to continue striving for a level of perfection he knows he will never reach.
His philosophy is at once militarily disciplined and creatively freeing. So often artists of many fields rejuvenate the freshness of their mind’s work by recalibrating, starting over, or approaching their work from new and different angles. Jiro’s strive for improvement toward perfection has and continues to require a life’s worth of patience, along with the mental fortitude to achieve greatness through intense repetition. Such things are enough to drive many other artists insane.
I spoke of balance earlier, and perhaps the reason why Jiro himself has had such a successful career (and has not gone insane) is the joy he gets from making sushi. The film gets its title from Jiro himself, who jubilantly shares with us that he dreams of sushi when he sleeps.