Friday, December 9, 2016

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Personal Analysis through Visual Literacy Lens

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) is a documentary about Jiro Ono, a renowned sushi master (though he would argue that there is always more to learn about sushi) and restaurant owner. The documentary also explores Jiro's past (including his family, particularly focusing on the sons who have followed Jiro in the sushi restaurant), his business, and what makes his sushi the best. Jiro is no-joke; he has been in this business for 75 years (at the time of filming), his restaurant was the first sushi restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars, and he's truly a Japanese treasure. The film was light, whimsical, and eye-opening; I do not eat sushi, so I learned a lot about the food/craft and Jiro from this documentary. One of the best things about Jiro Dreams of Sushi was that it was on Netflix; I encourage you to watch it if you haven't seen it! (I had never even heard of it!) Check out the trailer, below:


What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie? Support your answer with examples.
I think the message of this movie is that determination and hard work do pay off. Jiro talks about how he basically came from nothing; his parents abandoned him at a very young age, he was a troublemaker in school, and even when he was a young adult he had a humble home. But he worked extremely hard in the craft of sushi. He read but also practiced his skills, and with time he was proficient in techniques for selecting the right fish, cooking extremely laborious rice and egg, assembling sushi, and even establishing the aesthetic of his restaurant. There is a reason why apprenticeship in the restaurant requires 10 full years of patient learning! The others in the documentary frequently joke about Jiro's dedication to the sushi; he only takes off if it is a holiday or an extreme emergency, and he spends almost all of his waking hours in the restaurant. As Jiro stated, "Once you decide 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 your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably." Jiro never gives less than his best, and it is Jiro's lifelong dedication to his work that have led him to success.

If applicable, discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational. Why or why not?
I think that Americans who have not actually watched the documentary may believe that the sushi chefs, as Japanese, are minorities; however, Jiro's restaurant is in Japan, so of course he and all of the other characters are Japanese. I thought the depiction of them was accurate according to what I know about Japanese culture. They perform their work diligently and proudly as a people, and they always display utmost respect.

One minority that was barely even mentioned in the movie was the role of women. There are no female sushi chefs (or food critics, vendors, etc.) at all; the only women we see are Jiro's personal friends, his wife, and a few customers. Jiro states that he creates smaller sushi for women specifically because it takes men the same amount of time to eat larger sushi as it takes women to eat smaller sushi. While some may consider Jiro's portioning choices intentional and meeting his customers' needs, I don't think women should receive less food just because they're women! If I went to this restaurant and noticed that my male counterpart was consistently receiving more food than I was, I would be upset; however, this may be a part of the culture understandable to those within the customs and outrageous to me with my American values. Overall though, I noticed the lack of women in the film and wondered why this occurred; are women allowed to hold jobs in Japan?


Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film.
In order to answer this question, I read Craig Phillips' "David Gelb Dreams of Sushi: A Jiro Q&A," which gave me an interesting view into Director David Gelb's motivations for creating this documentary. According to the article, Gelb's first intention was to make a movie about sushi as an art and include a variety of sushi chefs, but he was taken by Jiro and thought that his life story would provide a better angle than the film he original intended to create. It is possible that Gelb's ethnic and cultural background (as a white American from New York City), so different from Jiro's, caused him to take particular interest in Jiro's story. However, Gelb's professional background as a director definitely impacted the creation of the documentary; without his original idea, Gelb would not have met Jiro and this film never would have been created! 

What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class, gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
As stated previously, women are excluded from this movie despite their presence in Japan, so I believe they could be offended by their omission. 

I also think that some people of lower classes may misinterpret this film. Jiro's story makes it seem as though someone can become rich and famous as long as he or she remains dedicated, focused, and does his or her best work every single day. In reality, that is not the case. People may be just as invested in their work as Jiro and still not see his results. Jiro's story is extraordinary, and I think people may become frustrated if they perceive Jiro's journey as the standard route for social movement from lower class to upper class. Similarly, people of higher socioeconomic status may use Jiro's story to justify that those who are poor are "lazy" or "unmotivated" when that may not actually be the case.

What has the movie added to your visual literacy?
There were many points made in this film about the way different aspects of a restaurant may appeal to a customer. For example, one of the comments I clearly remember from the film is that if a restaurant is clean and presentable, you're more likely to enjoy the food and think it tastes good, regardless of what you're actually eating. Though I had never noticed before, I can relate to that; if a restaurant was dirty, I think I would be uncomfortable eating there and may not even eat (or be unsatisfied with what I do eat). Another thing that the critic pointed out is that Jiro's sushi is incredibly simplistic yet is able to incorporate a wealth of flavors. This goes to show that just because something looks simple doesn't mean it's not actually complex underneath its appearance. As with all of the movies we have watched for this Visual Literacy class, I am reminded of the fact that what we see and perceive and how we interpret these things happens unconsciously all the time, but we need to develop an internal monitor that reminds us to focus and think more deeply about what we are perceiving and how that may be affecting us.


What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
One thing that I really liked about this documentary was that although all of the characters were speaking Japanese, the director did not choose new voice actors to read translated text of what the men were saying. Instead, we were able to hear each person speak in Japanese, a language that is interesting to hear as an English speaker because the two languages are so different. This meant that the viewer had to read the captioning at the bottom of the screen to know what each person was saying, but I found this very easy as it seemed to take much longer to say the words in Japanese than it took to read them in English; I never felt like I didn't have enough time to read the words and watch the action onscreen. I felt that because of this decision, there was more emotion to the film. In my past experience watching other media (like the world news), voiceovers have never been able to capture the true emotions of the people. But by listening to the tone, pitch, speed, etc. of the characters' voices in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the viewer was able to get a sense of the feeling of the speaker through changes in his voice (regardless of if the language was understandable).

A portion of this film that stuck out to me was when the food critic was describing the "ebb and flow" of Jiro's sushi meal. "When I ate the sushi, I felt like I was listening to music," he said. The critic then went on to describe Jiro's meal as three movements: first course as the concerto (with classic sushi), the second course as the improvisation or cadenza (with the fresh catches of the day and seasonal fish), and the third course as the finale (with traditional items like egg). To supplement this idea, the director paired these words with simplistic shots of Jiro and his son making the sushi and placing it on a plate, naming each sushi item (in Japanese and English) that was associated with each "movement." There was also orchestra music playing in the background, softly as the critic was speaking but loudly as the sushi was being shown. This segment set the tone for the experience of eating sushi in Jiro's restaurant, and it was incredibly enticing despite the fact that I don't care for sushi!


Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations (optional).
When I first read the title and looked at the movie preview on Netflix, I thought Jiro Dreams of Sushi would be a bizarre film, and I wasn't really looking forward to watching it. While it was definitely unique, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the documentary. I was fascinated by Jiro, his story, and the sushi! I guess the director did a great job of combining all of the elements of film into a documentary that appealed to me! This just goes to show that there is more to a movie than just your first perception; you can't judge a movie by its case!

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