A tasty meditation on a master chef's life

who prepares sushi with an obsessive quest for perfection. "You have to fall in love with your job," he says. Magnolia Pictures.

Tucked away in a Tokyo subway concourse, with just 10 seats and a cramped work space behind the counter, stands Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi bar.

This is no ordinary Japanese sushi bar, but a three-star Michelin restaurant - the guide's highest rating, and the first ever accorded to a sushi-only establishment. It is a place where the 85-year-old chef, Jiro Ono, prepares simple trays of raw fish and rice with an obsessive quest for perfection.

David Gelb's thoughtful and wonderful documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, explores the dedication of this humble, bespectacled man, and the Zen-like focus he has for his work - or, as many would claim, for his art.

"You have to fall in love with your job," Ono says. "You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill."

Ono literally does dream of sushi, waking in the night with visions of better ways to serve his eel and tuna, his octopus and shrimp.

At the heart of Gelb's film is the relationship between Ono and his two sons. Yoshikazu, the elder of the two, has worked at Sukiyabashi for decades (he's in his 50s now) and is expected to succeed his father when he eventually steps down, or dies. Takashi apprenticed with his father and then went off to open Sukiyabashi Roppongi, a mirror-image sushi bar with its own legion of devotees. (Takashi explains that he is right-handed, his father left-handed, and thus the opposing layouts of the two restaurants.) Takashi seems less burdened by expectations. He sports a smile that suggests that working on his own, out from under his father's shadow, has been liberating.

Masuhiro Yamamoto, an esteemed and amiable Tokyo food critic, ambles down his city's backstreets or sits behind his desk, reflecting on the mystery and magic of Jiro and his sushi. The tiny bar is booked solid months ahead of time despite its daunting prices ($300 or more for a dinner). But Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn't just a film for foodies, or Japanophiles. It's a meditation on work, on finding one's path in life, and then walking it with singular purpose.

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.