Sushi Yojimbo

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It’s “Sushi Yojimbo,” if I want to be glib about it. If I don’t, Get Jiro is Anthony Bourdain’s creative expression of his criticism of the food industry from fast food to organic and local to authenticity to chef celebrities, franchises, and high end dining. You name it and Anthony Bourdain has an opinion of it. Much of the philosophy espoused by the book’s characters is reminiscent of the opinions Bourdain expressed in his first book, Kitchen Confidential.

In Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, a lone samurai wanders onto the empty streets of a crumbling town. He’s quickly told by one of the remaining townspeople that the town has been taken over by two warring gangs. He is told to leave for his own good. The samurai decides to stay in put an end to the war though it is not clear why he decides to get involved. 

Just like in Yojimbo, Get Jiro starts with a lone newcomer. Jiro owns a small sushi restaurant in a strip mall just outside of the city. He takes the mastication of his sushi creations as seriously as the ingredients he uses to make them. Right at the start of the story, he slices a diner’s head clean off because that diner soaked his sushi in soy sauce and wasabi, rice-side down! (I have to admit he would’ve taken my head too.)

The city’s food industry is divided among two gangs. Bob is the head of Global Alliance, an international food conglomerate. He explains to Jiro that servicing the lower expectations and general gluttony of the masses is a necessary evil in the preservation of higher end meals for those who can appreciate them like him and Jiro.

Rose and Jerry, the heads of the second gang, promote eating vegan and the use of locally sourced, organic foods. They are a smaller and less powerful organization compared to Bob’s Global Alliance but have managed to make their claim on the city. Both organizations, despite their opposing ideologies, share many of its same methods of “enforcement” and both sides want Jiro in their ranks.

Unlike the samurai in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Jiro has a personal stake in ending both of these “food gangs.” His livelihood has been threatened by the gangs. Where the townspeople in Yojimbo ask the samurai to leave, Jiro’s fellow owners of small, family-run restaurants encourage him to fight and even use the battle cry “For Jiro!”

Judging from the time spent developing the gang bosses, I have a feeling that Bourdain, if not favored, understood Bob better. Bob can cook and appreciates Jiro’s cooking. He offers a relatable real world defense of his fictional food practices. The vegan bosses, Rose and Jerry, are more like stereotypes than a serious argument for the benefits of shopping your local farmer and having a more vegetable-friendly diet. To further my point, Bourdain has Rose and Jerry’s being undone due to their hypocrisy. A video of their eating duck in spite of their vow of veganism is secretly streamed.

In Yojimbo both bosses die. Get Jiro ends in a more interesting note as Bob and Rose share taco and imported beer from a street cart, while looking at a warm horizon. I can’t help wondering if this is Anthony Bourdain’s statement on the fast-casual future of the food industry?

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