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

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The End of the Line


The End of the Line

The bounty of the sea isn't endless.

(New Video Group) Ted Danson (voice), Charles Clover. Directed by Rupert Murray

Fish are a staple of the diets of many regions, including ours. Accordingly, the sea has always been a source of bounty, a necessity to many of our cultures. Entire civilizations have grown around our ability to catch fish. We have always considered the ocean to be a near-limitless source of food. That belief was naïve to say the least.

This documentary, based on a book by Charles Clover, looks at the overfishing and the non-regulation of factory fishing that has brought us to the point that if things go unchecked, there will be no seafood of any kind left by the year 2048. That’s right, 38 years from now Red Lobster could be nothing more than a fond memory.

Rather than just give dire warnings, the documentary looks at things that have already happened and are happening currently. One of the first things the film examines is the disappearance of cod from Nova Scotia. In 1992, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney declared a moratorium on cod fishing which enraged the region’s fishermen, many of whom had relied on the industry for generations. However, it was a case of too little too late; the cod population still hasn’t returned to the Maritimes 18 years later.

The film looks at practices like bottom trawling, in which huge ships drop huge nets that dredge the bottom of the ocean (doing irreparable harm to the seabed in the process) and bring up entire schools of fish. Entire species are being decimated to sate our insatiable appetites for seafood.

The Japanese continue to hunt whales to near-extinction despite near-universal condemnation of the process. They call it a part of their culture, which is absolute crap – human sacrifice was a part of certain tribal cultures, that doesn’t make it right. Wrong is wrong.

The movie has the sad tendency to preach a little bit, and gets repetitive in its message. Still, the message is important; the ocean’s bounty isn’t limitless and like any finite resource, it is our responsibility to steward it logically and reasonably.

Fortunately, as the documentary informs us, the problem isn’t irreversible even now. Sustainable fisheries are not only possible, they are thriving. Responsible fishing practices such as those used in Alaska set reasonable quotas that if adhered to can keep the industry thriving indefinitely. Establishing marine preserves that are no-fishing zones will give the oceans a place to heal and species a place of refuge to build up their numbers again. In several Caribbean countries this practice is already paying big dividends.

Individuals can also contribute by questioning where their fish are coming from, free range sources (bad) or sustainable fisheries (good). Make sure that the tuna you’re eating isn’t bluefin tuna (an endangered species). Refuse to patronize restaurants and grocery stores that aren’t adhering to responsible and reasonable fish purchasing.

There are already encouraging signs; Wal-Mart is pledging to obtain their fish from sustainable sources and McDonalds already obtains 90% of their fish from such sources. Still, there are some disturbing and discouraging stories, such as Mitsubishi (yes, the Japanese car giant who also have their fingers in other pies) stockpiling bluefin tuna and fishing for as much as they can get their fat, greedy hands on in order to make a killing on their frozen tuna once the species disappears forever. If true, that may very well be the most reprehensible story I’ve ever heard.

One of the true tests of a documentary based on a book is whether or not it acts as a supplement to that book, or if it merely reinforces that book. Unfortunately, The End of the Line is the latter, juxtaposing Oceans-like scenes of schools of fish swimming placidly in the ocean and dolphins playing in the waves with piles of dead fish in a Tokyo fish market and pollution floating in the open ocean. The message is an important one and it deserved a better film to deliver it; most audiences would be far better reading the book, although I’ll concede that some of the images are riveting here. Either way, it is part of our responsibility as custodians of our world to sit up and take notice before once again we collectively shoot ourselves in our collective feet.

WHY RENT THIS: An important message that should be heard.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie tends to be on the preachy side and occasionally belabors their points.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images might be a bit disturbing for the young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The book’s author, Charles Clover, is seen in the movie trying to get Nobu, one of the world’s high-end sushi chains, to refrain from using bluefin tuna on their menu.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are six webisodes further exploring the issue, as well as three different versions of the movie of varying lengths.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button