Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain
Get Jiro! is food personality Anthony Bourdain’s first foray into writing comics (or as the hipsters put it, graphic novels). He’s aided in scripting by Joel Rose, with Art by Langdon Foss and Joel Villarubia. Never heard of them before? Me neither. Not even a quick Google search showed any decent comics work.
The story is that of a Japanese sushi chef in a dystopian Los Angeles where chefs rule the world. People pay an arm and a leg to get reservations at the best restaurants, most of which are controlled by two warring factions. On one side are the hypocritical sustainable locavore hippies. On the other are the profit-oriented, ethically-challenged restaurant chains. Jiro is caught in the middle, refusing to give up his shokunin (craftsman, see the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, about a real life Jiro who is the best sushi chef in the world) technique, lifestyle and philosophy.
The concept in itself is interesting, and it puts forward a lot of Anthony Bourdain’s personal beliefs. The people he hates are all there – the vegans and the moguls, fighting amongst each other, while the small-market chefs who focus more on the product than on the marketing are ignored, even ostracized, on the fringes.
Since this was published by DC’s Vertigo imprint, the requisite blood, gore, profanity and nudity are all in attendance. The art is a bit rough, whether or purpose, I’m not sure. It does the dystopian, almost apocalyptic theme well, but as far as food porn goes, it is wanting. In other words, it’s not clean at all, typical of the more rough and tumble early nineties Vertigo stuff.
Like many Vertigo comics — fine, graphic novels — this is a political piece with a message. However, the pacing is a bit too fast, the action too up-front and gratuitous, that anyone who is not familiar with the ethical considerations behind the food industry is left thinking that this is just another hack and slash comic book. While the concept is laudable, the script and execution are lacking. This book just doesn’t have much depth to it, which is disappointing because it could and should have accomplished much more.
The worst, most unbearable part, is the editing. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m Filipino, and proper diction comes naturally because my native language is similar to Japanese in that words are spelled the way they are pronounced. Thus, misspelling maguro as “moguro” and kaiseki as “kaiseke” are mortal sins, especially coming from the pen of a noted food writer. It’s not only sad, but infuriating, because the story itself is about a chef who decapitates people who cannot properly appreciate his food. If Bourdain were to have his career judged by this comic book alone, he should commit hara kiri (not seppuku, because that’s reserved for the honorable), or perhaps, as he would spell it, “hora keeree”.
I remain a fan of Bourdain’s work. His memoir Kitchen Confidential taught me a lot, and his balls-to-the-wall, take-no-prisoners approach to food television is more entertaining than most other shows on the tube. What I always appreciated was his candor and honesty. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s a hypocrite, and as this graphic novel proves, he really should. I’ll continue to read his prose and watch his television work though, as his editors there are much more knowledgeable and adept at covering up the errors of this oh so human chef.