Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

FUTURES: 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' Director David Gelb On Capturing One of Japan's National Treasures

By Austin Dale | Indiewire March 8, 2012 at 9:00AM

Why He's On Our Radar: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a visually stunning portrait of Jiro Ono, the chef of what is often called the greatest sushi restaurant on the planet, marks the feature film debut of director David Gelb. He worked alone for several weeks in Jiro's kitchen with just a camera and a translator, capturing Jiro's dedicated routine and artistry. The resulting film is an eloquent look at one of Japan's living national treasures; a treat for food and film lovers alike.
0

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Director David Gelb
Magnolia Pictures "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Director David Gelb
Why He's On Our Radar: "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a visually stunning portrait of Jiro Ono, the chef of what is often called the greatest sushi restaurant on the planet, marks the feature film debut of director David Gelb. He worked alone for several weeks in Jiro's kitchen with just a camera and a translator, capturing Jiro's dedicated routine and artistry. The resulting film is an eloquent look at one of Japan's living national treasures; a treat for food and film lovers alike.

What's Next: "I'm working on a script right now with Matt Spicer, who is a great writer, and it's a murder mystery set in contemporary New York," Gelb told Indiewire. "I don't think I'll make another food documentary until I find somewhere I really want to hang out at for a whole month."

How did the film come about? Was it from an interest in Japanese culture, or from a love of sushi?

It really comes from a love of sushi. I was watching the BBC documentary "Planet Earth" and I got to thinking that somebody should make a "Planet Sushi" using really cool cinematography to film sushi in an artistic way. Originally, I was going to make a film with a lot of different sushi chefs who all had different styles, but when I got to Jiro's restaurant, I was not only amazed by how good the sushi was and how much greater it was than any other sushi restaurant I had ever been to, but I also found Jiro to be such a compelling character and such an interesting person. I was also fascinated by the story of his son, who is fifty-years-old, but still works for his father at the restaurant. So, I thought, "Here's a story about a person living in his father's shadow while his father is in a relentless pursuit of perfection." It was the makings of a good feature film.

What's your filmmaking background?

I did a lot of shorts in high school, goofing off with a camera and editing on iMovie. I went to college at USC, and that's where I met the film's editor. He was my freshman roommate. I was in the film program, so I did the film production track and did a lot of short films, and when I got out of school, I made a documentary on the rock band The Hold Steady and I went on the road with them with a friend from school. I've done a couple of making-of films and some other short documentaries, and I did an hour-long behind the scenes documentary on the film "Blindness" by Fernando Meirelles, who directed "City of God," so I got to follow him around set and I learned a great deal from him. And his DP Cesar Charlone is one of the greatest cameramen in the world. I have the experience of working around all of these incredible, talented people who I admire so much, so through trial and error, I developed what I think is my own style.

When did you decide to move into documentary?

It was just practical. Making support pieces for these other movies was a way for me to develop my skills while still making a living and showing things to an audience. I don't see myself as a documentary filmmaker, even though that's what I've been doing. I want to make all kinds of movies. Documentary is unique because you don't need a script supervisor or actors or make-up. There's a lot more in a narrative. It's much more risky. Since I've been working in documentary for a while, I figured I would make a feature documentary about subject matter that is popular and has a good human story that I could do with very little money. I went to Japan all by myself with all of my camera equipment. The crew was just me and a translator. I didn't hire a DP or a sound recordist. I did everything myself. I was able to do something that felt bigger with almost no money. I gave myself as much creative control as possible, even in post-production.

And with just you there, it must have been easier to form a connection with your subjects.

Of course. And if I had gone with a crew, it would have been so annoying for them. The first few days I didn't even bring a camera with me. I just went to the restaurant to observe. I stayed out of the way as much as possible.

When did you fall in love with sushi?

When I was two, my dad took me on a business trip to Japan with him. My dad was at work, and my mom is a food writer, so she loves to eat and she would take me along. And when she would eat sushi, they would feed me cucumber rolls with soy sauce. And then we went again when I was four, so I just got hooked on Japanese food.

Magnolia Nabs Tribeca Doc "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"
David Gelb's "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." Magnolia Pictures.
So let's talk about Jiro. He's really fun to watch. What was your first impression of him?

He is such a fascinating person. The first impression was that there are two Jiros. He's very stoic and austere behind the sushi  bar. He doesn't talk or make jokes. He's just so focused on making the best sushi the way he wants to make it. After the service, when he's able to take off his uniform and he has a moment to reflect and relax and talk to me, you realize that he's got an incredible sense of humor. He's such a generous guy and an absolute pleasure. And I learned so much about myself.

What did you learn about yourself from Jiro?

I learned a lot about how I want my work to be. I learned to honestly appraise the work that you're doing and to have the courage to try to do it better and not be discouraged because something didn't turn out exactly how I wanted it, and to keep making it better and better. And that's what we tried to do in the editing process. If one day, the fish wasn't marinated exactly right, he'd throw it out and make you start over again from scratch. And when we were making the film and something wasn't working, we had to have the courage to throw out a bunch of work and restructure. Never be afraid to work for the highest level, even though it means taking a step back.

Have you had a hard time eating sushi after having Jiro's?

Oh, yeah. Oh, definitely. Nothing's the same. You notice the biggest difference in the rice. And the rice does so much, because it brings out the flavor of the fish, and it's all about the balance between the fish and the rice. So many American restaurants overlook that. There are only a few restaurants that get the rice right. The balance they're searching for is umami: the synthesis of the two flavors. The barrier of the conflicting flavors melts away and you have a combined flavor of purity and deliciousness. There are a few restaurants in New York that go for that, but they aren't cheap. I go for sushi a lot less often, and so instead of going five times a month, I go once a month and pay five times as much.

How long was the editing process in total on the film?

Ten months. I shot for the month of January in 2010, and came back to do the editing. I went back to Japan in August with a much more focused and targeted shoot to get everything else I needed.

What has the festival experience been like for you?

The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, which was such an honor, and then the US premiere was at Tribeca last year. And Magnolia bought the film right before that. Since then, it's played at about twenty film festivals all over the world. It's been a great year. And audiences have really appreciated the movie. Even the people who don't like sushi have found things to like about the film, which is the greatest compliment.

Where do you look for inspiration visually?

Well, if it wasn't for Errol Morris, I probably wouldn't even be making documentaries. Those movies showed that a documentary can feel beautiful. And I love the way that "The Fog of War," for example, is mostly archive footage, but then they have all this great metaphorical B-roll footage. And the slow-motion photography and the Philip Glass music was a major inspiration for me. And, of course, I love Fernando Meirelles, so I think I was definitely inspired by them. I'm learning and trying to absorb whenever I see a movie. I know it when I see something I like and then I figure out how to do it.
 

This article is related to: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, David Gelb, Futures, Interviews






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More