Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Jiro Dreams of Sushi means for writers

Like many people I know, I have been seriously obsessed with the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon.

Jiro Ono has been making sushi for over 70 years. His restaurant, a humble space that is literally located in a subway station, has been awarded three Michelin stars. He recently hosted President Obama.

What emerges from the documentary is the passion of one man who has one overarching ambition: to be the best in the world.

He wakes up every day thinking of how he can make better sushi. As the title of the documentary suggests, he dreams of making sushi. He doesn't take days off if he can help it. He doesn't have hobbies. And he is relentless in training his apprentices (including his sons) to be the absolute best they can be as well.

He very famously asked apprentice Daisuke Nakazawa to make tamago over two hundred times before he finally deemed it acceptable.

As a writer, I found this documentary incredibly inspiring. I only wish I had the same single-minded focus on improving my craft, on waking up every single day to think about how to improve my writing, and never wavering from my own vision.

Of course, Jiro Ono also wishes he had more. At one point in the documentary he wonders what would be possible if he had been born with the taste buds of Joel Robuchon.

Have you seen the documentary? What do you think?


Stephsco said...

I have this tagged on Netflix. I now also REALLY want to eat sushi.

Spike said...

I too found the documentry inspiring. But remember focus will substract from balance. And balance in life is the key to happiness. Learn the lesson, yes, and apply it wisely.

Lisa Brackmann said...

I love sushi, so, yes!

I think the parallels to writing are there but with some key differences. Mainly that, writers get their material from living, observing the world around them, thinking about their experiences and observations. For most writers, it means that a single-minded focus on craft alone is impossible. Otherwise, what would we write about?

vernonlee said...

I too saw & loved the film.

(And for those who haven't seen it -- there's a really interesting wrinkle in the story that we can't go into here for spoiler reasons, but will affect how you think about this question in the future. So like all great stories, there's what you can anticipate discovering and then a surprise!)

Perhaps there is succor in the notion that a writer's life might look messier from the outside (and be experienced as such from the inside). That there's something we're unconsciously reaching for, trying to create in our daily lives that may make others uncomfortable or disappointed in us.

Bryan Russell said...

I'm with Lisa. Writing comes out of the interaction of craft and the imagination, and imagination is derived from the interaction with reality.

Also, I want sushi.

Holly West said...

I saw the documentary a couple of years ago and was also inspired to write a post about it as it applies to writing:

At any rate, eating Jiro's sushi is on my bucket list.

Bill Az said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the documentary yet, but will make a point of it now.

I've read one of your JW books, Nathan, and it was very good. It's the writing I love most. I was surprised at how much I loved it. I started reading and fell right into the story. It's so well done adults can read middle grade content and love it, too. That doesn't always happen. So I think you should just keep doing what you've been doing, which can only get better in time.

I would love to read something more mainstream/literary by you. Something that kills you to write, but was well worth the effort for readers.

Daisy said...

(Very mild spoiler alert, for those who care.) I loved that movie, but when I saw it, the writing lesson I thought was the most relevant was not from the chef, but from the documentary maker. The entire time you are watching it, you are under the impression that you are watching Jiro's story, but by the end I think it was clear that it was the son's story all along, and his is the more complex one. I thought that was a masterful bit of narrative construction, leaving everything in plain sight but then bringing it together at the end for a moment of clarity for the viewer and creating a resolution that's both surprising and satisfying. Which, needless to say, is a very nice thing to manage in a book as well.

wendy said...

Interesting comments, all. Thanks, Nathan, for posting such a thought-provoking topic.

As far as food is concerned, I don't like to step outside the Australian epicural culture that much and get frustrated if I can't satisfy hunger for all things Australian and eatable, which actually originated from other countries but I'm use to and like. Over the last five years Australia has had a huge influx of Indian migrants who have opened shops pertinent to the culture they left behind. They're a gentle, hard-working people and Australia is lucky to have them, but the sari and the popodom defeat me. Sari's are beautiful but only suitable in a heatwave or if one is swanning off to the opera and Indian food is not what my tummy is all about. So sushi will probably not get a gersney from me, either.

As far as being inspired by this man's single-minded focus for sushi perfection, it is something to consider how we can continually offer more delight for our readers. I like that, actually.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, anon!

Neil Larkins said...

Dedication and focus to perfect a craft are important aspects. But might this degree of dedication be counter to perfecting ones writing? You could perfect the life out of it. Like Spike said, balance applied with wisdom is as important as focus.
Good "food for thought" though.

Magdalena Munro said...

I haven't seen it but will do so this weekend. Having been in a relationship with someone that was this singularly focused and obsessed about their art left it lonely for other's in their midst. Alas, while the sushi most certainly is divine, this sort of life would provide me very little meaning. The monochromatic existence would bore the crap out of me. But then again, I have no desire to be the "best at anything" and instead am happy just being pretty damned good at a bunch of stuff. Now can someone say SUSHI!

Scott Atkinson said...

I saw this and also immediately made the association with writing. One of my favorite parts is when Jiro says that to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food. Same is true with writing. We must read delicious writing.

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