Your orders for today:
1) Watch this movie trailer.
2) Succumb to your immediate impulse to see the movie. It’s streaming on Netflix.
It’s also available on Amazon, where you can buy the damn thing on DVD or Blu Ray, buy the damn thing as a digital video, or rent the damn thing and stream it. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can watch the damn thing for free.
Just see the damn movie. Because it’s a terrific damn movie. I’ve been burbling about it to every friend I’ve seen for the past week. It’s a beautifully-shot documentary about an 85-year-old sushi master in Tokyo, and his tiny, nine-seat restaurant that has won a rating of three Michelin stars. A three-star Michelin rating means “this restaurant is so good, it’s worth a special trip across the planet.”
And Jiro has won a kind of awestruck respect from chefs and restauranteurs. The reputations of Jiro’s rice merchant and his fish merchant are elevated by virtue of the fact that Jiro regards their wares as acceptable. His apprentices are moved to tears by even a basic acknowledgment of competence, and no wonder: the greatest sushi chef in the world is telling them that their work is good enough to be served in the best sushi restaurant there is.
Like all great documentaries, it revolves around an idea that is universal. There’s nothing flashy or unconventional about Jiro’s sushi. You won’t find Hot Dog Chocolate Chip Pancake Sushi on his restaurant’s menu. His entire reputation was built on doing something as well as any human being probably ever will. And he got there by always, always, always challenging his own work, and seeking higher standards.
Creative people can take this line of thinking to selfish extremes. You can use “perfectionism” as an excuse for abusing the people over whom you have power, and making sure that your authority is absolute and unmistakeable. In truth, it doesn’t really matter weather or not a sofa on a movie set is “coffee brown” or “chocolate brown” but who else on the set has the power to shut down the whole schedule while the decorator scrambles to replace the sofa that Isn’t Up To Standard? Yup…the director. It feels great to shout at people, and make them do things not because they actually need to be done, but because you shouted at them and you’re the boss. That’s why small, weak people do that sort of think a lot. But they claim it’s because they’re “perfectionists.”
Similarly, every word that you write and every brush stroke that you paint and every note you play and record is perfect and beyond reproach…until you declare “OK, it’s done” and put it in front of an audience. And so, creative people often keep telling themselves “Dammit, it’s just not ready” out of fear of rejection. And thus, their work stays hidden, protected from the purifying effects of sunlight. This kind of fear is rational and understandable. But if you keep telling yourself “I won’t show my work to people until it’s perfect,” you’re just making an excuse.
Note that even Jiro doesn’t seek “perfection.” He achieved perfection by always seeking “an improvement over my last.”
“Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” makes me want to create more, and create better. It makes me question my standards, and want to raise the bar higher.
It also makes me want to be less precious about what I do, and be more comfortable with finishing and publishing something I’m not entirely happy with. Letting go of a failure frees you to move on to a new project, which you can attack with fresh knowledge.
It also makes me want to go get sushi. I’m sure even the two chefs at my local independent market take pride in what they do. Just don’t tell Jiro that they only massage the octopus for 30 minutes instead of 45.