Sushi: The Global Catch: Film Review

Sushi the Global Catch Tuna Farm - H 2012

Sushi the Global Catch Tuna Farm - H 2012

It isn't all bad news in a doc suggesting sustainability and culinary pleasure aren't mutually exclusive.

Mark Hall's documentary follows the raw-fish and sustainability phenomenon.

A solid primer that augments exposition with a powerful sensual streak, Mark Hall's Sushi: The Global Catch aims to be a comprehensive look at the raw-fish phenomenon. Like industrial tuna-hunters, it casts a very big net -- viewers who already know something about the subject may feel it tries to do too much, but those who aren't interested enough to read one of several good books on sushi's history and environmental impact will come away enlightened.

During its early scenes, moviegoers who worry they're in for a long lecture on conservation will find something much more seductive. In a couple of Tokyo's most elite restaurants, we watch craftsmen making bite-sized dishes so exquisite they demand the label "food porn." Men who run centuries-old businesses discuss how much expertise goes into everything from fish-cutting blades to the rice upon which coveted morsels of eel and salmon sit.

Soon, mouthwatering images give way to merely impressive ones: At the famous Tsukiji market, we see wholesalers inspecting man-sized tuna that can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. The former airline exec who accidentally revolutionized this business recounts early-'70s experiments in refrigerated fish transport, and merchants describe an exponentially-growing demand for choice cuts in places like China.

Cue the bad news. Most sushi lovers know that their favorite fish -- bluefin tuna, for instance -- are so overfished they face extinction, but Hall says things are much worse than that. Letting Greenpeace activist and sustainability entrepreneur Casson Trenor explain, he shows how the disappearance of a "top predator" can paradoxically lead to decline in other species as well.

Environmental concerns about seafood could easily fill a documentary all by themselves, and Hall leaves some topics underexplored: How exactly does fish farming harm the ecosystem? How is conventional farming inferior to the efforts of Hagen Stehr, whose Clean Seas venture uses high-tech aboveground tanks to spawn its own populations of bluefin?

Ideally, the viewer will be so intrigued by this overstuffed film -- which finds time to visit maverick Texan sushi chefs and gimmick-peddling businessmen alongside the standard-bearers of Japanese tradition -- to go do some research for herself.

Production Company: Sakana Film Productions
Director-Producer: Mark Hall
Executive producers: Dan Green, Scott Gaynor, Alberto Tamura, Robert Barnhart, Lynn Edmundson
Music: Brian Satterwhite
Editors: Sandra Adair, Catie Cacci
No rating, 74 minutes.