Begging the question whether the world is as hungry for sushi movies as it is for sushi, Mark S. Hall’s alternately appetizing and unsettling docu spends its first 30 minutes making viewers crave the gemlike servings of tuna so lovingly photographed here, and the next 45 telling them why they shouldn’t eat them. Despite this curious tactical approach, “Sushi: The Global Catch” offers an intriguing mix of history, process and state-of-the-fish reports, advocating a reversal of the world’s assault on bluefin tuna fisheries and a short course on the alternatives.
Early chapters of the film will provoke inevitable comparisons with the recent arthouse hit “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” which concerned a venerable chef in Tokyo. In “Sushi: The Global Catch,” uni, hamachi and, most of all, toro and maguro (the two principal cuts of bluefin tuna, the most coveted of all sushi fish) are presented so adoringly, one can almost feel the wasabi burn. Enhancing this is a quick primer on sushi tradition, in which knifemaker Kazuo Nozaki explains the importance of tempering carbon steel and the fact that sushi knives descended from swords, and Mamoru Sugiyama discusses the traditions maintained in his sushi restaurant, which his family has owned since 1884. Visits are made to Tokyo’s esteemed Tsukiji fish market, the New York Stock Exchange of raw fish.
All this edification further whets the appetite. But the film’s real message is the ongoing depletion of bluefin, caused by an explosion in sushi consumption worldwide and barbaric fishing practices. Remedies are being attempted, among them the “ranched” tuna sold worldwide by Australian bluefin champion Alistair Douglas; Casson Trenor’s “sustainable” sushi restaurant in San Francisco; and the efforts of German transplant Hagen Stehr’s fishery-cum-laboratory in Australia, where enormous strides have been made toward breeding bluefin in captivity.
There are moments of not-quite-intentional comedy when the filmmakers visit Texas, where they find a so-called sushi joint that claims to serve “nothing raw, nothing weird,” as well as a street-food vendor, Takehiro Asazu, whose “Longhorn roll” features rib-eye steak, cream cheese, avocado and jalapeno.
One of helmer Hall’s salient points is that, in years to come, an increasing appetite in China for sushi is going to tip the scales, so to speak, toward the utter depletion if not extinction of bluefin tuna. What the docu doesn’t really delve into is the apparent contempt countries like Japan have long exhibited toward world fishing treaties, as evidenced by their continued violations of whaling regulations — and hardly anyone eats whale. Bluefin, as the movie shows, is a whole other fish story.
Tech credits are topnotch. The shooting is delicious, the editing seamless, and Brian Satterwhite’s score maintains a steady, urgent roll beneath the proceedings.