Then I got home and read Ebert's review. This paragraph hit me like a punch to the stomach and put it all in perspective:
"Even at the high prices of his premium fresh ingredients, you realize he must be a rich man. But to what end? The existence of his sons are an indication that he has a wife, although we never see her. He must have a home, although we never visit it. There must be hours when he cannot be at work, but the film indicates no amusements, hobbies or pastimes. The idea of his courtship of his wife fascinates me: Forgive me, but I imagine that even while making love, he must be fretting about the loss of valuable sushi-making time."
I would actually urge any westerner to go study a semester or two of Japanese language (not culture), purely for the calm insight it can provide into the alternatives to our way of seeing, understanding, and acting upon the world.
I have to agree with this. The first foreign language I studied was French, and it taught me almost nothing - everything was so similar to English that most things were just a matter of memorization and one-to-one conversion. I quickly lost interest.
But Japanese has been entirely different. When you speak in Japanese, the way you think is different from when you speak in a Western language, such as English. The culture is inextricably tied to the language, and if you learn the language and then get a chance to actually visit the country and use it in real-life situations, it all clicks - why the language is structured how it is, and how it shapes all of Japanese society into its unique form.
Also, I would rewatch the last few seconds of the film re: is he happy. Just because the man's relaxation time is not part of the film doesn't mean he doesn't have any, and it certainly doesn't mean he's not happy.
Here's Jiro. Jiro is successful, and let's explore what he does. It's so freaking simple when you look at it, right? He practices and practices. He's meticulous, he's a perfectionist. And wow, look at those Michelin stars. And look at how people line up months in advance to eat at his restaurant.
I was so dazzled by the simplicity and success of Jiro that I totally forgot there could be any cost to this. And the filmakers never took us there. Like Ebert points out, we never got to meet his wife. And what other damage was caused by this drive to success? Was there any at all? Again, something that fully deserved to be explored. Or was the movie just a tribute to the success of Jiro?
My CEO will never be Jiro. He may think he's Jiro. Hell, he also thinks he's Steve Jobs. But when I hear him on the phone again for the nth evening telling his son he won't be home because some VC term sheet has an incorrectly-crossed T...I just have to sit back and think it's not fucking worth it. EVER. No matter how much we worship the IPOs and fuck-you-money-level-exits on HN, there are thousands of kids sitting at home wondering if their parents will be home to tuck them in that night.
1) ... but those that want and realized the cost of achieving that decided not to.
2) ... there are only a few handful that decided to pursue it regardless the cost.
Cost here usually means family.
But Jiro also illustrates that to reach the top of some crafts your dedication must border on sociopathy.