I don’t get to see a lot of movies these days — and it’s almost unheard of that I’ll watch one twice. But this weekend marked my second viewing of the short documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you’re interested in the alluring, frustrating, asymptotic pursuit of mastery, this is movie is a must-see.

The film tells the story of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old chef who runs Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi-only restaurant in Tokyo that has 10 seats — and 3 Michelin stars. Ono is obsessed with his craft, so much that sushi ideas come to him in his dreams. And while his obsessiveness has costs — for instance, his relationship with his sons, who’ve followed him into the family trade — it is also inspiring.

A few choice quotations:

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

“I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty-five years old, I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.”

“I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”

The film is available on Netflix and on DVD. You can find out more on the movie’s website.

11 Responses to “The best 82-minute movie on mastery I’ve ever seen”

  1. Rich...! says:

    For those non US residents that don’t have netflix, but do have a sneaky US iTunes account, you can rent it here:


  2. David Lee says:

    Thanks Dan and…thanks for your AWESOME interview with Michelle James on the Business Creativity Summit.

    It was one of the most useful, info-packed, fluff-free interviews I’ve ever heard. I especially liked your comments about noticing the type of work/creative endeavor you spend your time doing (w/o getting paid)for clues about the work you are meant to do (versus continually asking “What am I passionate about?”)

    Also, totally resonate with your taking notes all the time. So many of the coolest, most subtle lessons come from “simple” experiences that we will forget unless we write them down.

    So thanks again for that and for sharing this story. I look forward to watching it.

    Best regards,
    David Lee

  3. Michael says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Dan. I’ll check it out. In addition to Netflix, it can also be seen with Amazon Prime.

    Another (similar?) film you may want to see: “Between the Folds.” Documents the lives of several origami artists and theoreticians who are using paper folding as medium for artistic expression as well as scientific discovery.

    It’s available on Amazon Prime as well.



    Michael Gowin

  4. Well, Cranky Old Lady dissents not with the value of loving your work. But with the need to remember passion and skill might help, but many jobs are not easy to love and are down for the pay check.

    Lucky are those who love their work and can earn a living by what they love. For the rest it is called work for a reason. You have to be paid to do it. Then one has to love doing a hated job well or have a good union so the pay check makes it worth while.

    As I said, I am a cranky old lady, but also love life and children and am distressed at what has happened to far too many children of the 70’s, 80’s and on up by telling them to just love their work. Much more complicated.


  5. Alex Sirota says:


    Alex here again. I am inspired to do another NewPath Movies that Motivate event. Our first was Iron Man back in 2008 (!). We need to do another and I haven’t found one movie that I would deem worthy until I saw the trailer for this one. Just ordered it on Amazon in Bluray and will get a place to watch it with our NewPath’ers soon.

    Do you have other movies that motivate? Autonomy and Purpose movies? We would like inspirational ones that could foster a discussion afterwards.

    Here’s our first (and only) attempt at this — it was super fun and educational/inspirational/motivational.


  6. Brian Shea says:

    I just finished watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and I agree that it’s an excellent documentary. It’s an inspiring story and fascinating to see how a master has worked for decades to improve his craft.

    One thing I’d like to add, though. I have to admit that I was a little uneasy watching Jiro’s pursuit (obsession?) of mastery. I fear that we as a community can go too far in promoting the value of self-improvement and craft. It’s important to take work seriously, but there are other valuable pursuits in life beside one’s craft/career: family, faith, character, etc. Especially in a modern society that places so much value on “success”, I worry that a singular focus on mastery can become a bit shallow.

    With that said, I definitely recommend the film. A great watch. 🙂

  7. I certainly enjoyed this post, but the focus on mastery misses the most crucial point. What motivates his drive for mastery? I perceive that he is really motivated by an incredibly strong sense of purpose, though largely unarticulated. People rarely drive for mastery for its own sake. They drive for mastery because it helps them achieve some sort of greater social good either for themselves or for others. When people have a compelling purpose, they will do whatever it takes to be great at it, even becoming obsessive.

    Focusing on mastery is looking at the outside manifestation of a more fundamental process. I think this post and the movie would be significantly more valuable if it went past the superficial into the real driver of great performance — compelling purpose.

  8. Skanda Tejaswi says:


    Interesting observation.

    Purpose seems to be a heavy subject. Most forms of art have no ‘purpose’ in the popular sense of the term. Art of course does fulfill a different purpose, one that has to do with an inexplicable desire that may even lack logical justification. I love music. I just want to be able to make music that moves me. If I wanted it bad enough so as to become obsessed with it, I would no doubt attain mastery. I have no such purposes of entertaining the world with my music or making a difference to anyone’s lives through it. Yet, my desire drives me in the path of mastery (I say PATH, because I’m nowhere close to mastery itself).

    Does it necessarily take a sense of ‘purpose’ to go far? I suppose one can be taken over by the ghost of ‘desire’ for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

  9. Unnikrishnan says:

    I am deeply moved by Skanda Tejaswi’s use of the word ‘PATH’. In no other way one can describe one’s passion for mastery. Of course, the word remembered me ‘the passion of Joan of Arc’. For many she was a heretic, but the underlying political, social and psychological assumptions and beliefs can never be thrown out. So one who is in the Path of mastery, is not egotistic, pursuing his/her own benefits but that of mankind.
    Thanks for William Seidman for his insight poured into the discussion. The question he raised ‘What motivates his drive for mastery?’ is a billion-dollar one.

  10. I felt that I quickly needed to comment: I viewed ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ a month or so ago… i was looking for some motivation or travel docu in general and i like sushi. ha. And WHAT A FILM this ended up being! What a man/father and family. I have told friends and general people i chat with on the phone, at starbucks, a red light, or wherever to watch this film. I just wanted to chime in and give my two cents… I’m happy to see it being discussed and passed on to more people.

  11. Ted Johnson says:

    I have been working to describe and understand my mastery journey for the past several months. How did I grow this passion and when did I commit? I am seeking to be more self aware as I think it will make me a better leader of leaders, manager, peer, friend, husband, and person. Jiro is an interesting polar example of Mastery. Some people saw the movie and took away mixed messages about mastery and the sacrifices Jiro clearly made during his life. I think there is some truth in that. However, personally having recently read Drive I saw a intoxicating mix of mastery, purpose, autonomy, and flow.

    How does one build driven teams and driven leaders? Where do you go after Drive, Jiro, etc? I was particularly interested in the secondary story of the apprentices. They bought into the mastery journey. How do you help people find that mastery journey? I get that maybe it is up to me and my brain but it is certain accepting ideas and inputs.

    Relevant Resources to date:
    “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”
    “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”,
    “A Whole New Mind” (Lefty here)
    “You Can Beat Your Brain: How To Turn Your Enemies Into Friends, How To Make Better Decisions, And Other Ways To Be Less Dumb”
    “RSA Animate – Drive” (Youtube)
    “Thinking, fast and slow”
    “Smart and Gets Things Done”