Saturday, August 24, 2013

Movie Review: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", and a Christian comment about this secular movie

I watched a foreign film called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It was the documentary about a Japanese chef who is the world’s premier sushi chef. He is the oldest chef to ever receive three Michelin stars (the most). He has been making sushi for 76 years. He is 86 years old. He was 85 when they made the documentary.

The movie showed Jiro Ono's work ethic and his attempt to make each and every piece of sushi better than the last. He has spent his life striving for perfection. To that end, he has become world renowned. His sushi dinner costs $300 and diners must make a reservation over a month in advance.

Jiro Ono
The documentary focused on each aspect of running the restaurant and making the food: the rice from purchase to serving; the fish, each kind. For example, the octopus is usually massaged for 30 minutes to tenderize it, but at Jiro's it is massaged for 50-60 minutes. We were shown the fish market and all that goes into selecting the shrimp, tuna, and eel, among other fish. How Jiro caters to each guest individually. We see his knife skills and he discusses his life philosophy. The documentary also shows him as a man living a life; biking to work, raising children, visiting friends on a rare day off.

Jiro, right with his eldest son, left.
He was abandoned at age 9 by his alcoholic father and his mother kicked him out, saying “You have no home to come back to.” He apprenticed in a sushi restaurant at age 10 and for the next 75 years, this is what he has been doing, 18 hours a day, day in and day out. When he is not doing it, he is thinking about it, and when he is not thinking about it, he is dreaming of it.

The movie itself contains nothing objectionable. There are no profanities, no lascivious women or men, and everyone is dressed appropriately. There was a scene at the Buddhist cemetery, which was sad because it was not a Christian cemetery where there would be hope of reunion one day.
Jiro's Son Yoshikazu bikes to the Fish Market
Blogger Travis Wagner remarked of the documentary, it is an "endearing reflection on the life of an accomplished and hard-working individual." Quite true. The film is certainly that.

All in all I enjoyed the movie for seeing slices of modern Japanese life, and for the sushi itself, which was marvellously filmed and poetically presented. The movie is on Netflix and is subtitled.

The Christian comment I'd like to make is about shokunin. Jiro strives after a Japanese philosophy called shokunin. This life philosophy is defined here.

The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate

Another man wrote about shokunin here,

One of the most important things I have learnt about in Japan is the spirit of Shokunin. It means craftsmanship, however it is much more than that. One of the essential things is to make something for the joy of making it, and to do it carefully, beautifully, and to your utmost best of your ability. In Japan one can see this in the incredible delicate designs, or amazing machinery, and even the pride and perfection of even the cleaning staff. Similarly for a student, designer, or technologist, if you can have the Shokunin spirit you can learn to strive for innovation and make something, not only think of something, but make it, to as much as possible perfection.”

Jiro is climbing the mountain of perfection. He said in the movie, “I want to be at the top. Except nobody knows where the top is.”

He admitted that in his pursuit of shokunin, he worked so many hours and was not present in raising his two boys. He left at 5AM and returned at 10PM, departing and returning after they were asleep. Once, his son saw him at home on Sunday and half joked “Mama, there is a strange man sleeping in our house!”

In another scene he and his son went to a different town to perform a ritual at the Buddhist graveyard. They watered the plant of his parents’ grave and they are supposed to say prayers, which the son did. Jiro muttered, “I don’t know why we come here. They didn’t take care of me.” His son stopped his praying and bowing, and responded, “Shhh! Do not say that in front of the ancestors!”

Overall I was saddened by this cinematic peek into the chef Jiro and Japanese life. I thought about the difference in our lives Jesus makes.

I mentioned that he is a shokunin, where he pursues a life philosophy of service through trying to achieve perfection. In Jiro’s case, his love of fish and his culinary talent had driven him toward a life philosophy of perfect service through presentation of perfect dishes to his customers for a perfect culinary experience.

At the end of one of the dinner services, the well-heeled customers were nodding and smiling and bowing as Japanese do, honoring Jiro for his skill and complimenting him on his efforts.

So, absent the Holy Spirit, what is the point of a life striven for perfection, working 18 hour days and dreaming of sushi? When Jiro dies, he will go to hell and what will be his legacy? Nothing. Smoke, disappearing even now as I type this. Do people remember a remarkable meal? Sometimes, for a while. Usually not. It is a fleshly consumption satisfying fleshly appetites, good for nothing except to keep us alive a day longer.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”

Sadly, Jiro is working for men.

Jiro’s obvious ability produced nothing, while the fruit of the Spirit shapes our talents for God-given purposes, honing those talents & abilities into a legacy that glorifies the Son, eternally. That is the difference between a non-believer’s talent and a God-given gift.

Jiro unfortunately is the example the Preacher mentioned in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.

THE VANITY OF TOIL

"There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind."

1 Peter 4:7-11 is about the speaking gifts and the serving gifts.

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

One may ask, “What is the difference between a talent and a gift?”

The difference is Jiro and shokunin. The comment Jiro made in the documentary summed up the non-Christian life. “I want to be at the top. But nobody knows where the top is.”

He understands that the top is- to use a visual example- in the clouds like the summit of Mt Everest, unscalable and hidden. It is unattainable on our own power. The top is not hidden to us Christians, though. And when one is in Christ using His gift of the Spirit for its proper use, the clouds clear and the sun glints off the snow capped top of the peak and you know that someday, you will be up there with the One who is shining that light. Jesus.


Working for Jesus makes all the difference even in the most mundane or boring of jobs. The point of working for Jesus is eternal joy in pleasing the eternal savior, a legacy that extends to heaven, and expansion of the kingdom, and pure joy in serving for His sake.

When his life inevitably ends, Jiro and all who are outside of Jesus will find that a life philosophy of shokunin was wildly off the mark. Being in Jesus, I know where ‘the top’ is, and that makes all the difference.

The Atlantic


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