Chef documentaries are often only as interesting or as innovative as the chefs they depict, which is perhaps one of the reasons why director David Gelb’s World of Sushi project – a documentary about sushi preparation across the globe – gradually morphed into Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a study of Jiro Ono and his Tokyo restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, the only sushi establishment to receive a perfect Michelin 3-star rating (despite only seating ten people and being located in a subway station) and arguably the greatest of its kind in the world. Opening with Jiro’s observation that “ultimate simplicity leads to purity,” Gelb more or less shoots sushi preparation as calligraphy, a search for grace that takes years to master, a few flicks of the hand and that’s all – and in that sense a gestural art, perfectly suited to Philip Glass’ rippling score, which is lifted wholesale from The Hours, but whose breathless, extended climax works quite wonderfully here as well. That said, for all that Jiro’s philosophy suffuses the film, he’s not actually in it that much, so utterly subsumed into his art by the age of eighty-five that he doesn’t really seem to exist anymore outside the procedures and textures of his restaurant, whose sculptural simplicity is beautifully served by Gelb’s clear, crisp photographic style. Absorbed into his endless quest for perfection with an intensity that’s somehow monomaniacal and meditative at the same time, he seems utterly divorced from the charismatic and flamboyant individualism of most other celebrity chefs, instead coming across as an embodiment of old-fashioned Japanese honour and etiquette, a character straight out of an Ozu movie. Repetition is his mantra as much as inspiration - "making an effort and repeating the same thing every day" - as he sets out to incorporate every aspect of sushi into his daily routine, which feels right for the only Michelin-starred restaurant set in a mass commuter space, as well as a chef who gets most of his best ideas on the train ride to work. For perhaps that reason, Gelb is very careful to outline the unique position of the sushi chef as a chef who doesn’t really cook per se – or doesn’t cook that much – but who instead merely curates, prepares and presents more or less discrete ingredients, only synthesising them seconds before they reach the customer’s palette, as if to distill “the ideal moment of deliciousness for each ingredient.” As a result, the film proceeds, to some extend, by moving from ingredient to ingredient – including a long sequence at the Tokyo Fish Markets that encompasses the minutiae of tuna, shrimp, octopus and halibut curation – as if to emphasise the integrity of the sushi ethos, its highly aestheticised quality control over every part of the process, from raw product to final product. At the same time, it becomes pretty clear that Jiro’s “ideal moment” is also a profoundly synaethestic moment, a sensory fusion that, among other things, requires him to immediately memorise the position of each guest, whether they’re right-handed or left-handed and what the main traits of their sensorium are likely to be. The result, as one food critic puts it, is probably the closest you can get to music without actually listening to it, and that’s true of the film as well, which, like Jiro, assumes that umami is a state of balance as much as a flavour, and sets out to master it.