Sushi: The Global Catch


The tasty simplicity of sushi.

The tasty simplicity of sushi.

(2012) Documentary (Lorber) Mamoru Sugiyama, Mike Sutton, Alistair Douglas, Casson Trenor, Hagen Stehr, Tyson Cole, Yasuhara Ida, Kazuo Nazaki, Makoto Nozue, Hiroyasu Itoh, Barbara Block. Directed by Mark Hall

Films For Foodies

It really wasn’t that long ago that I couldn’t understand the appeal behind sushi. Raw fish? White rice? Yeccch. I resisted eating the stuff for a very long time. Then, at a party where that was all that was being served food-wise and I was desperately hungry, I finally broke down and tried it. I loved it. I became an instant sushi freak and have been for decades now.

Sushi started life as a cheap Japanese street food and has morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry. It has become one of the most popular dishes in the world, with places like China and Brazil beginning to discover it. It is insanely popular in Australia and even Europe has embraced the fish and rice delicacy.

In Japan, sushi chefs undergo rigorous training, a seven year process that requires two years alone to learn to cook the rice properly. High end knife stores in Japan supply the highly specialized sushi knives which are required to be razor sharp. Here in the United States sushi has popped up all over the country, even in the landlocked Midwest. The demand for sushi chefs continues to grow almost daily.

Demand for sushi has outstripped supply and entire species of fish are beginning to wobble dangerously towards extinction, primarily the bluefin tuna which is a highly prized species. While some limits have been enacted on fishing the species, the fact that a single bluefin can bring as much as $400,000 at market in Japan means that fishermen aren’t too choosy about following these laws.

This documentary tackles both sides of the subject, with a brief history of sushi and a look at how sushi restaurants operate in Japan, showing sushi chefs making an early morning visit to the world’s largest fish market in Tokyo; from there it moves on to the sustainability issue, how spiking demand for sushi has led to overfishing and overpricing of fish.

The first part of the movie can be a bit dry; the second half a little bit preachy. Both sides have a lot going for them, from the fascinating look at sushi preparation, and how it moved from street food to global phenomenon. This part of the film may indeed give you an appetite for sushi but the second half might well kill it. Hall isn’t able to integrate the two portions of the movie well, despite the smooth transition. Although both sections are interesting and important on their own, for some reason they are jarring when brought together. It’s like one half is saying “sushi has an honorable tradition” and the second half is “sushi has caused a great evil;” it’s sort of schizophrenic.

We do visit with the owners of Tataki, a San Francisco sushi restaurant that uses product from sustainable fisheries exclusively (which a number of other West Coast restaurants have begun to do). We also talk to scientists and oceanographers who warn that the ecosystem of the ocean has already been thrown out of kilter and reiterating grim statistics from other documentaries concerned with overfishing that  by 2048 the supply of seafood will be exhausted at current rates, a catastrophic eventuality that could lead to starvation as many cultures, particularly in Asia, rely on the sea as a main source of food.

The message of the film is not to stop eating sushi but to eat it responsibly. Make sure that your favorite purveyor of the dish gets their supply of fish from sustainable sources; if they don’t, urge them to do so. Of course, not all sushi restaurateurs know for certain if their sources are sustainable; if not, urge them to find out.

It is not too late to reverse the course of overfishing and responsible politicians and fishermen are already taking great steps to do so. Sushi lovers can also do their part by being aware of what they are eating and where it came from. While the movie here makes that important point, some may find that it uses a sledgehammer to make it when a gentle nudge would have done.

WHY RENT THIS: Draws attention to overfishing and the serious peril that bluefin tuna are in. Some nifty info about sushi chefs and restaurants.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The two thrusts of the film don’t blend well together. A little bit preachy.
FAMILY MATTERS: Some fish blood and guts.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Following the release of the film, Chevron had the case tried in an American court, claiming fraud and corruption; raw footage from the film, not included in the final cut, was submitted as evidence in the case.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is an image gallery included.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5,757 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (Streaming only; DVD rental coming soon), iTunes, Amazon
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The End of the Line
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Vacation

Tony Manero


Tony Manero

Tony Manero or Al Pacino?

(Lorber) Alfredo Castro, Paolo Lattus, Hector Morales, Amparo Noguera, Elsa Poblete. Directed by Pablo Larrain

We tend to take our freedoms for granted. In other cultures, those freedoms are non-existent; even a suggestion of non-conformity can lead to arrest or worse. In Chile under the dictator Agustin Pinochet the rule was by an iron fist without the benefit of a velvet glove.

Raul Peralta (Castro) lives in a working class neighborhood in Santiago and he dreams of fame and fortune. He is fascinated by Saturday Night Fever, then a current hit movie, and identifies with the central character, Tony Manero who in turn dreams that his skills as a dancer will elevate him from his working class neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Raul shows up for a television show that awards prizes to the best impersonator, but on the wrong day. He stands in line with a group of hangdog Chuck Norris wannabes, only to be told that the Tony Manero show is the following week.

Despondent, he goes to a Santiago cinema to lose himself in the lights and the glamour of Saturday Night Fever yet again. At home, he sees an old lady carrying her groceries home set upon by a group of young hoodlums. He helps her pick up her groceries and escorts her back to her own apartment where he suddenly and viciously beats her to death.

Raul, his girlfriend Cony (Noguera), his friend Goyo (Morales) and Cony’s young daughter Pauli (Lattus) make up a troupe that aspire to perform in the rundown nightclub run by Wilma (Poblete) who is also Raul’s landlady. Raul is obviously the alpha male in this ragtag troupe; he sees himself as a virile, attractive and masculine. In reality, he is impotent, unable to perform either with Cony or, in a riveting but strange scene, with Pauli. His focus is on his fantasy; he goes so far as to replace the dance floor at the bar with a glass brick one along the lines of the one seen in the movie.

The group is already starting to implode as petty jealousies and ideological differences lead to one of the group members informing on the others. Raul leaves them to fend for themselves. Dodging police patrols, he finally makes it to the competition. Who will be the winner?

Our glimpses into Pinochet’s Chile have been very rare, and Larrain gives us a good look without it being overwhelming. He prefers to leave Pinochet in the background, instead concentrating on the story set there and that’s a wise move. Larrain has said that the movie is an allegory for life under Pinochet in Chile and to a certain extent, it is.

What I find fascinating is the buy-in to the American fantasies that have been imported into Chile. The people of Santiago find escape in any way they can; their lives are so repressive that they find the need to take on other lives, other personalities in order to get past the feelings of helplessness they must have constantly.

Raul’s sexual impotence is also a metaphor for this, the impotence of the Chilean people. They are ruled by guns and fear and can’t see a way out of it. This is a strong, prideful people so it must have been extra galling to have been so powerless.

Castro, a renowned Chilean stage actor and director, looks a little like Al Pacino but gives an outstanding performance as the amoral Raul. His only passion is for the role he so desperately longs to inhabit; when that is threatened, he reacts viciously. He defecates on his friend Goyo’s suit because he feels threatened that he might beat him in the television competition.

This isn’t always an easy movie to watch and in some ways, Castro does too good a job in making the unlikable Raul truly repugnant. It gets to the point where you want him to get caught for his crimes which would of course mean the movie would come to an end but the sad truth is that a penny ante sociopath could easily fly under the radar in a place where brutal repression was so in vogue. That’s the most horrific part of the movie by far.

WHY RENT THIS: A chilling look into a sociopath in Pinochet-era Chile. Castro gives a riveting performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The lead character may well be too unsympathetic to get behind.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of nudity and sex, as well as extreme violence. Not for children in any way, shape or form.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Chile’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It didn’t win the nomination.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Film Geek