Cobain and Jiro: Worthy Documentary Subjects

They are both notable figures in their respective fields who lived very different lives despite having reached the pinnacle of their respective professions, neither self-impressed by the accolades. Each of them had their lives selected to be the focus of documentaries, and they’re both incredible to watch, seeing what influenced their life and work in two completely different artistic endeavors.

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Easily the more famous of the two is Kurt Cobain, the troubled lead singer of Nirvana who shook up the world of music in the 1990s before meeting his self-inflicted demise. The Montage Of Heck documentary is crafted utilizing audio tape recordings, family videos, photography, artwork and journals mixed in with interviews and old video recordings to provide a unique look into the life of the rock legend.

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Through Montage, the viewer gets to know who Kurt Cobain was, and more importantly what shaped his life. The relationship he had with his parents – or lack thereof – clearly had a profound impact in his development as a person who had little respect for authority. His time spent alone in his formative years gives great insight into why he wasn’t the life of the party.

Seeing his interactions with wife Courtney Love, the good and bad, explains the content of many Nirvana songs. Seeing his artwork displayed while lyrics are played following home videos paint the picture in a way that makes it clear to viewers where he found inspiration.

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Maybe surprising to people unfamiliar with the life of Kurt Cobain, but the documentary was heartbreaking. Yeah, he committed suicide and left behind a young daughter to be raised without her father, but the sadness of this story goes far deeper. The melancholy of his formative years is depressing, and it shows in his music. Were he to have a proper support system, there’s no telling what this musical genius could have done with his poetic lyrics and game-changing song-writing ability. Perhaps Nirvana would have sounded completely different, but we’ll never know. To be certain, Montage Of Heck absolutely gives insight into why the band is called Nirvana. It was his sanctuary, and his means to share his ingrained sadness and lack of a “happy place” with the rest of the world. If you don’t have an appreciation for the band who changed the world of music with Smells Like Teen Spirit and their Nevermind album, you will after viewing this documentary.

My rating for Montage Of Heck: 87 out of 100

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Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is a documentary which doesn’t particularly sound like it would be an exceptional film, but the tale of a sushi chef dedicated to quality control is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.

Visiting a sushi restaurant located in the Tokyo subway system doesn’t sound very appealing, but food critics from around the world have lauded Sukiyabashi Jiro, which earned a three-star Michelin rating. Even Barack Obama has visited the restaurant, calling it the best sushi he has ever eaten. That’s not part of the documentary, however, and I’m not convinced that it would have added much to the impact of the story even if they had the footage (he ate there after the documentary was completed, two years after its release).

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan talk with sushi master Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant, during a dinner in Tokyo, Japan, April 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The film centers on the life and dedicated work of Jiro Ono, but that wasn’t documentarian David Gelb’s aim when he started the project:

Originally, I was going to make a film with a lot of different sushi chefs who all had different styles, but when I got to Jiro’s restaurant, I was not only amazed by how good the sushi was and how much greater it was than any other sushi restaurant I had ever been to, but I also found Jiro to be such a compelling character and such an interesting person. I was also fascinated by the story of his son, who is fifty-years-old, but still works for his father at the restaurant. So, I thought, ‘Here’s a story about a person living in his father’s shadow while his father is in a relentless pursuit of perfection.’ It was the makings of a good feature film.

Not a fan of sushi, and perhaps this documentary isn’t for you? I thought that would be the case for my wife (as I’m a fan of sushi), but as the story of Jiro’s life and dedication to his craft unfolding, we both found it to be inspirational. That’s not a term I throw around lightly. In fact, I very rarely call something “inspirational”, but that’s exactly what I found this documentary to be. It didn’t make me want to become a sushi chef, and although it does make Sukiyabashi Jiro a must-visit location when I finally get to visit Tokyo, that’s not nearly the extent to which I find it to be inspirational.

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Jiro loves his work. He absolutely loves it. And he demands perfection. The training he puts his staff through, the apprenticeship he provides, and the respect people give him is powerful. Roger Ebert found the same thing in the film that I did:

While watching it, I found myself drawn into the mystery of this man. Are there any unrealized wishes in his life? Secret diversions? Regrets? If you find an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough? Standing behind his counter, Jiro notices things. Some customers are left-handed, some right-handed. That helps determine where they are seated at his counter. As he serves a perfect piece of sushi, he observes it being eaten. He knows the history of that piece of seafood. He knows his staff has recently started massaging an octopus for 45 minutes and not half an hour, for example. Does he search a customer’s eyes for a signal that this change has been an improvement? Half an hour of massage was good enough to win three Michelin stars. You realize the tragedy of Jiro Ono’s life is that there are not, and will never be, four stars.

My father’s advice on finding a career has always been to find something I enjoy doing, and that it will never feel like “work”. Jiro found love in sushi.

My rating: 87 out of 100

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