"What defines deliciousness?" is the first line of David Gelb's splendid documentary about Jiro Ono, the oldest chef on the planet to be awarded three Michelin Guide stars, the restaurant world's top honor.
Whether or not you're seduced by the artfully composed slivers of fish resting atop perfectly cooked rice is immaterial because the movie's less about sushi than a life defined by pursuing excellence.
Ono's restaurant, Sukiyabashi, is tucked inside a Tokyo subway station. It seats only ten diners, requires reservations at least a month in advance, and the prix fixe dinners start at 30,000 yen (about $360.00 U.S dollars). A Tokyo food writer says a meal there is "served in movements, like a concerto." At 85 years of age, Ono oversees the menu and the intricate training of apprentices, including his oldest son, who will inevitably take over one day.
Kicked out of his parents' home at the age of 9, Ono began his association with restaurants by hanging around them like a street urchin. With his fame assured and pronounced, he allows Gelb's camera into his world, one besotted with such details as how to properly massage an octopus in order to yield the supplest bites, and how even a chef of Ono's renown still relies on a favorite tuna vendor at Tsukiji, Tokyo's enormous fish market.
Ono's advanced age has changed his pace but not his focus. His oldest son is firmly in line at the original restaurant, while his younger one runs a second one in the suburbs. Though nearly middle aged, the sons know they're walking in big, prominent shoes and will forever be measuring their own skills against those of their father. And when the subject of retirement comes up, Ono just bows his head and, to the gorgeous Philip Glass score, zeroes in on yet another offering of pure artistry.