Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Jiro Dreams of Sushi vs. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, two documentaries about real-life eccentrics striving to meet their personal artistic ideals—and the legacies they’ll leave behind.
Subject Both Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye are documentaries focused on subjects who aren’t household names, but are famous among their own kind. The star of the former, Jiro Ono, is an 85-year-old sushi chef who runs a 10-seat restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, tucked away in a Tokyo subway station—which happens to be considered by many to be the best sushi restaurant in the world, with three Michelin stars to its name. The story centers on Jiro’s relationship with his son and heir apparent, who’s never been able to live up to his father’s example. The star of the latter film is Genesis P-Orridge, the legendary musician and artist who’s fronted Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV and who decided, in 2000, to undergo a series of surgeries in order to resemble as closely as possible his lover, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. So did Lady Jaye. It’s a tough call between these two premises, but we’re going to give it to Jiro, simply because we’ve never heard his story before—anyone who’s lived in New York long enough (and, for that matter, read New York long enough), or taken enough of an interest in art and music, probably already knows about Genesis and Lady Jaye. Advantage: Jiro Dreams of Sushi Style This one is just a matter of preference—but we prefer our documentaries slick and beautifully photographed, rather than shot through the sort of hazy, bobbing-and-weaving lens that The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye employs so liberally. We’ll give director Marie Losier a pass on the fuzziness of the found footage, of course, but we wish the trailer had been cut differently—as it is, it’s sort of just a mélange of impressions; it doesn’t linger on any one scene for more than a second or two. Jiro, by contrast, feels sharp, clean, and purposeful—and don’t even get us started on those sumptuous sushi close-ups. Advantage: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Pathos Jiro promises to deliver some pretty gripping family drama: specifically, the effect on Jiro’s son of having a father who’s not only the best in the world at something, but also expects him to carry on that legacy. “I wish my father could make sushi forever,” the son says, “But eventually I’ll have to take his place.” And another person remarks, “Jiro’s son needs to be twice as good just to be equal! That’s how influential his father is.” Big shoes to fill, etc. But it doesn’t hold a candle to the poignant tale of Genesis and Lady Jaye, who loved each other enough to want to relinquish their own identities in favor of occupying a third one together, borne entirely out of their devotion. (They called the project “Creating the Pandrogyne.”) “Well, you know how it is, you fall madly in love with somebody, and there’s this moment where you just want to consume each other—not be individuals anymore,” he says in the trailer. Many people talk about that kind of love—but so few actually prove it to the world in any measurable way. The whole story is made much sadder, of course, by how little time they were actually able to spend together—Lady Jaye died of stomach cancer in 2007. Advantage: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
Accolades Both films have had impressive festival runs: Jiro has played the AFI, Tribeca, and Stockholm festivals, among others, while Genesis and Lady Jaye played Berlin, Helsinki, Athens, and others. And both can boast some pretty breathless pull quotes, too: Jiro‘s got “A work of art” from Time Out New York and “Elegant” from Vanity Fair; and The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody said of Genesis and Lady Jaye that “Losier’s film captures the poignant paradoxes, the ecstasies and burdens, of the transformation of life into art.” Not too shabby—and calls for a tie. Advantage: Tie Director Though Jiro‘s trailer would suggest that its director has a strong technical command, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is actually David Gelb’s feature-film debut; his CV thus far consists of jus a couple of shorts, a couple of videos, and a TV documentary about the making of the movie Blindness. He’s a promising young director, it seems, but that’s not enough to win the category. French-born Marie Losier, who directed The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, is more of a known quantity in the art and film worlds—this is her first feature-length documentary, but she’s got seven shorts under her belt, some of which have gone on to prestigious showings at the Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, MoMA, and the Whitney Biennial. She’s also the film curator at the Alliance Francaise. Advantage: The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
The Verdict We know early spring is often decried as the post-Oscar-eligibility moviegoing dead zone, but we have to confess, we love it—because it’s the time of year when weird little movies like these two are briefly, tantalizingly available. Since we’re still in the holiday spirit, we’re going to respectfully decline the option of picking one of these films as the winner—and instead suggest you see both. Surely your local repertory theater can use the money. Winner: Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
For more Trailer Face-offs, click here.