Review of Sushi: The Global Catch

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This documentary shares the history of sushi: From the humble beginnings as a simple food sold by Japanese street vendors, to the modern day international phenomenon it has come to be.
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Movie Review: "Sushi: The Global Catch"

-- Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 75 minutes
Release Date: August 3, 2012
Directed by: Mark Hall
Genre: Documentary

Director Mark Hall manages to pull off quite a coup with "Sushi: The Global Catch." He brings to light the plight of the perishing bluefish tuna and makes a plea for sustainability, while not sounding overly preachy. This is a feat, because many documentary filmmakers fail to find the balance between informing and scolding audiences when it comes to the issue they are trying to focus on.

The film gives an overview of the sushi industry before it delves into sustainability. It begins with top sushi chef Sushiko, whose Japanese restaurant has a coveted Michelin star recommendation. He tells the tale of how it took him two full years of schooling just to be able to make the rice for the sushi he now produces daily. After five more years of learning how to meticulously cut the fish and roll it to perfection, he was able to finally begin making sushi for customers.

This background is important because it showcases how unlikely it was for sushi to become such a global phenomenon. With a full seven years of training needed just to get a job, and an extra three years before most sushi chefs are trusted to greet customers, the chances of a profession like this taking off like it did in the last 20 to 30 years is astounding.

Yet somehow, it happened-sushi became popular all over the world. Nowhere is that more evident than in the United States, which now has to export certain scarce types of tuna to Japan, where they were once plentiful. Hall explains how this happened by taking his cameras to the world's largest fish market, located in Tsukiji, Japan, where fishmongers actually have to auction off some of the fish. This is because the demand has become so great that fish like the blue fin tuna are almost literally worth their weight in gold. In fact, Hall points out that a recent blue fin that was an extraordinary specimen was auctioned off for a cool $400,000. That may seem outrageous for a single fish, but if sushi lovers are willing to pay it, then sushi chefs will buy at that price.

The documentary explains that there are enough wealthy people who can afford to pay higher prices for the blue fin tuna, which is thought to be fattier and therefore more delicious than other tuna varieties. In particular, some of the Japanese interviewees in the film point to the increasing wealth of nearby China, whose richest residents like to flaunt their wealth with luxury items like blue fin sushi. The growth of the American culinary scene that features a more global food experience has also contributed to the increased demand for a dwindling supply of specialty fish.

Hall also takes his cameras to the United States to interview Casson Trenor, a San Francisco restaurateur, who opened what he claims is the world's first sustainable sushi restaurant. He prepares food the traditional Japanese way, but only using fish that are not endangered. He is a passionate man, who even gets into a fight with a visiting Australian who happens to be a tuna farmer. Trenor wants a blanket ban on the catching of blue fin tuna, while the Australian feels that it would be best to give people what they want by creating farms such as his that don't endanger the wild population at all.

The brilliance of the film is that Hall lets both sides have their argument, and doesn't seem to particularly want to take a side. He obviously wants the message of the film to be that humans must stop overfishing blue fin tuna and other fish that are at risk of disappearing. He could call for a blanket ban like Trenor, but he refrains from doing so. The alternative of creating farmed fish for human consumption is treated as viable, which may put Hall at odds with some environmentalists.

Towards the end of the movie, Hall is careful to note that the overfishing of the world's tuna population is a complex problem, one that can't be fully covered in the 75 minute running time of "Sushi: The Global Catch." He directs viewers to several websites and even a few smartphone apps that will help further explain the dilemma and let people decide for themselves if they wish to take action. The ability to make a plea without being preachy has succeeded, as does the message Hall is trying to get across.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars