The Harsh Truth Behind Chef Jiro’s Dreams of Sushi

Dreams of Sushi is an 81-minute documentary on Japanese culture, focusing on sushi chef Jiro Uno, who at the age of 85 still owns and runs a small sushi bar in the heart of Tokyo. It is called “Sukiyabashi Jiro”, and it only serves sushi at a fixed menu. A typical meal costs upwards of $300 and the time of the meal tends to be quite quick, usually around 30 minutes; this sushi bar only consists of 10 seats at the counter and has a 3 month wait for a reservation. Yet even so, this place has earned the highest award possible for culinary talent: a three-star Michelin rating.

The documentary looks at Uno, a perfectionist and a workaholic. His apprentices are made to spend weeks learning to squeeze out a towel properly before even approaching the kitchen. One of his apprentice made a dish more than 200 times before he got it right; when he did, he cried of joy in finally succeeded in pleasing Uno. An apprentice to Jiro can work for 10 years before the master starts calling him shokunin ("artisan").

The chef is such a perfectionist that he spends time agonizing over the placement of meal settings on the counter and will pay attention to customers to see if they are right-handed or left-handed. Uno observes the sushi being eaten by his customers while simultaneously knowing the history of all the sushi he makes.

The title of the documentary, ‘Dreams of Sushi’ is not an irony; no, it is Uno’s reality that he dreams of sushi - his whole life revolves around sushi, as it is his daily work and also the family business. Within the documentary, we see that both of Uno’s sons have accepted their dad’s profession and wish to work in the sushi business. The older one, Yoshikazu, is 2nd in charge (despite having originally desired to be a racecar driver) whereas Takashi, his other son, runs another branch of the restaurant in a different part of Tokyo.

This careful, masterful chef, despite his large dreams and great success, was born into poverty and fled his own house at the age of 9 after having been abandoned by his father. Uno’s story has become an ingredient in the preparation of his sushi, as it was the reason he entered the industry - as an escape from his past. Now, he has used his passion not just as an escape, but as an artistic pursuit. Truly, he is now regarded in his profession as a God. This is clearly seen by the way his meal course order is often likened to a “concerto”, as each piece of sushi is precise and fits perfectly with the rest of the meal.

The whole point of the documentary, is to highlight that it takes years of dedication and repetition to make dreams come true. The documentary also focuses on making the process better, rather than immediate success, as we see that Uno continually tries to present the sushi at the best possible moment of its tastiness. His constant pursuit of improvement pushes him to keep going day after day, decade after decade, directly challenging the viewer to think about their own persistence and to continually strive to improve and grow. It also beckons you to work in what you love rather than for money, while showing that success is a fruit of hard work and effort. Uno is such a success story and so moving that he is now regarded by the Japanese government as a 'national treasure.' The simple title, “Dreams”, emphasizes that the pursuit of dreams can come true after much perseverance; therefore, it makes one reevaluate their priorities and their own dreams.