Jiro Dreams of Sushi directed by David Gelb (Preferred Content and Sundial Pictures, PG, 81 minutes)

Starring Jiro Ono and Yoshikazu Ono.

Talent or Hard Work?

What makes a successful person? It seems as if “born with it” is a common perception. We see unmatched athleticism in sports, celeritous musicianship, or a brilliant thesis, and we praise the talent behind such work.

But do people rise to the highest levels of their profession on talent alone? I’m not convinced. As the great Seattle poet, Macklemore, proclaims in “Ten Thousand Hours”:

“You see I study art / The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint / The greats were great cause they paint a lot”.

As Macklemore implies, success correlates closely to hard work. While talent might differentiate between good and great, a ruthless devotion to your work is foundational.

With these principles in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

For Love of Sushi

The film surveys the work of 85 year-old sushi master and 3-Star Michelin chef, Jiro Ono, and his award-winning restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro.

You see, Jiro loves his work. He recognizes work as a process and he constantly aims at improving his trade. Jiro feels uncomfortable with time off; he finds inactivity useless.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi also details Jiro’s two sons. Jiro trained both to be sushi chefs. The younger son, Takashi, left to open his own restaurant. He recognized, under cultural tradition, he would never have the opportunity to inherit the restaurant—his older brother, Yoshikazu, stands ready to take over the business.

But the main intrigue behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a hardnosed devotion to perfection. Jiro works tirelessly to provide the best quality sushi in Tokyo. His passion manifests itself in dreams as his mind ponders better ways to prepare his food.

For me, the most interesting idea in this film surrounds the principle of excellence. While being interviewed, Yoshikazu, the son, pontificates on the principles of success. He grants that anyone could be a successful sushi chef; it only takes hard work and a continuous dedication to honing your craft. To be great, however, requires talent. You need the same work ethic and dedication, but when talent is added to the mix, you become exceptional.

Jiro recognizes this distinction. While he clearly has talent, he respects those with greater talents. Jiro believes a great chef must have highly tuned senses. The inimitable chefs have the capability to discern between the slightest nuances in taste. Jiro truly believes he would be a better chef with a more acute palette. And yet, he is widely considered the best. There’s always room for improvement!

When to Stop Working?

Even though I loved Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the film requires a fair share of criticism. While there is truth to its central thesis—hard work is the bedrock of success—work without balance is deleterious. Too often, ambitious professionals fall into the trap of hard work=endless work. When you work, work with the utmost passion and drive. BUT DON’T FORGET TO REST.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi inspires its viewers to work harder and to achieve greater levels of success. But a life without balance is an unfulfilled life. Never forget the value of family, friends, and your own physical well-being.  I am glad Jiro has found success; he inspires me to continue aiming toward the mountaintops of professionalism. But I can’t go all in. A Sabbath rest is always necessary. Never underestimate the power of hard work. But also, never underestimate the importance of rest.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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