Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” Director David Gelb

Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Director David Gelb

An appetizing documentary in every sense, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” follows 85-year-old master sushi chef Jiro Ono, paying lushly photographed homage to the process of preparing the artisan sushi that earned Ono’s esteemed Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant three Michelin stars. From the complicated relationship between Jiro and his sons to the ins and outs of the tuna auction, this spirited film profiles all aspects of Jiro’s craft in tantalizing style and detail. [Synopsis courtesy of The Tribeca Film Festival]

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”
World Documentary Competition
Primary Cast: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Takashi Ono, Hachiro Mizutani
Director(s): David Gelb
Producer(s): David Gelb, Kevin Iwashina, Tom Pellegrini
Editor: Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer
Director of Photography: David Gelb
Executive Producer: Matt Weaver, Joey Carey, Stefan Nowicki

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

Responses courtesy of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” director David Gelb.

Why filmmaking?

I think a lot of it had to do with “Star Wars.” My parents would show me cool movies, and my dad would often shoot me and my brother with a video camera. I would edit my own videotapes using stop motion animation of playmobile figures, home video footage of family friends birthday, and footage from “Star Wars.” Really, I think it was all about playing, and I’m really grateful that I still have so much fun working with video today. Cameras are like toys to me; they are so much fun.

The “Planet Earth” of sushi…

It started when I was watching BBC’s miniseries “Planet Earth.”  I remember thinking to myself at the time “Why doesn’t someone make a ‘Planet Earth’ of sushi?”  I loved sushi and movies, and thought this would be a perfect way to eat sushi and make a movie at the same time. I visited many sushi bars and shot a few shorts featuring my favorite sushi chefs, kind of testing the style. After I visited Sukiyabashi Jiro and ate there I knew that it had to be the focus of the movie. It became more than just a movie about sushi. He’s a living legend. His lessons can apply to anybody, and his upbringing along with his sons make for a fascinating family story.

Going rogue…

Basically, I went by myself to Japan with a ton of camera equipment and a vague idea of what the movie might be.  My only crew member was my translator, who also had some experience in film production.  My initial plan was to cast a wide net and capture everything I could.  After a month of shooting, I returned home and the editor Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer and I started going through the translated footage.  There were numerous revelations and surprises in the footage, we realized the film is just as much about Jiro’s sons at it is about Jiro himself. We started assembling the film, and after we had an extremely rough cut I went back to Tokyo to finish shooting in a more targeted, strategic manner.

Crossing that barrier…

The biggest challenge is the language barrier.  My translator was amazing, but, sometimes I was steps behind what was going on.  Often, when I would only have a brief window to shoot something, there would be no time for the translator to translate.  I simply would have to use my own rudimentary understanding of Japanese and point the camera.  Fortunately, I was generally on target, but I have to admit I was a bit nervous at times.

The thrill of the shoot…

Shooting in the tuna auction was a real thrill. We had to wake up at 3AM to set up the steadicam with the local crew. The quiet and cold was abruptly taken over by a real scene of action and orderly chaos. After a long lobbying process and a strong connection in the market, we managed to get amazing access, and could fly the camera right in the action between the bell-ringing, shouting auctioneers and the hungry buyers. The real challenge was just staying out of the way and not pissing anyone off. I remember leaping over a giant tuna with a follow focus in my hand dodging a motorized cart. Thankfully, though, most people were very patient and we got what we needed. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

Up next…

I have a number of ideas and I’m still trying to figure it out. It will probably be scripted.

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