I finally got around to watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the documentary about famed Sushi chef Jiro Ono and his three-Michelin-starred restaurant, where diners pay the equivalent of $300 for a 15 minute meal. (Jiro discourages lingering or socializing–its all about the food)
It is a well-done documentary with scrumptious shots of sushi, a behind the scenes look at a fish auction, and music by Philip Glass. But the main attraction is Jiro Ono’s character. Now 86 years old, and a perfectionist with extraordinary discipline and dedication, he still goes to work each day, detests holidays, and, despite being the best sushi chef in the world, dreams of making better sushi. His sons seem to be happily following in his footsteps.
He pours over every detail of his operation from how long fish is marinated to the placement of place mats and seating arrangements. His apprentices spend weeks learning how to slice an egg and decades perfecting a dish. He apparently has no other interests, eschews all recreation, his home life is never mentioned, his wife never appears.
He has a mission, the value of which he is absolutely sure, and each moment of his life is aimed at carrying it out. His self-certainty pervades the film. No doubt driven by an exquisite form of love, his life embodies Nietzsche’s stirring paean to single-mindedness:
O thou, my Will! Thou change of every need, MY needfulness! Preserve me from all small victories!
Thou fatedness of my soul, which I call fate! Thou In-me! Over-me! Preserve and spare me for one great fate!
And thy last greatness, my Will, spare it for thy last–that thou mayest be inexorable IN thy victory! Ah, who hath not succumbed to his victory!
Ah, whose eye hath not bedimmed in this intoxicated twilight! Ah, whose foot hath not faltered and forgotten in victory–how to stand!– (Zarathustra, Part III, 56)
There is something to be said for having only one goal in life—a kind of simplicity and absence of doubt. Jiro enjoys the inherent satisfaction in achieving excellence and deep although limited aesthetic appreciation. But daily life is repetitive and perhaps lacking imagination, and human relationships seem constrained and circumscribed by his singular goal.
And so the film starkly raises the question–is such a life of dedication and obsession a good life or is it too unbalanced?
I’ve been thinking about this issue for 40 years and I’m still not sure.