Directed by Mark S. Hall. STC. 75 min. Opens Aug. 31 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
For nearly the entire first half of Mark S. Hall’s documentary Sushi: The Global Catch, the director treats his subject like he’s making a high school social-studies movie. The super-obvious central thesis, that sushi is popular all over the world, is accompanied by unnecessarily detailed and intolerably dry backgrounders on knife sharpening, traditional sushi-making practices, and the Tsukiji fish market.
Thankfully, the doc builds some tension when it turns to the role of bluefin tuna in this global culinary explosion. Tuna is the most valuable fish for sushi, sold by auction and shipped all over the planet in high-tech coolers. But it’s said that the growing popularity of sushi in China alone could deplete all the bluefin in the ocean.
As the second half of the film probes the bigger question of how our love of sushi will impact the planet, it veers towards standard eco-doc territory: We get the requisite argument for sustainable sushi—provided by a particularly passionate San Francisco restaurateur—and at least one warning that equates bluefin tuna fishing with genocide. But there’s also a decent exploration of how the amount of food required for tuna farming is actually (and counter-intuitively) immense, along with some decent anecdotal examples of the scope of the sushi craze.
Despite the alternatives offered—like breeding tuna in captivity—there’s an overwhelming note of despair to the whole enterprise of saving the bluefin tuna. Indeed, when the final thrust of the argument invokes consumers to make better choices about what kind of sushi they’re eating, it feels like giving up—and that’s not a good look for trying to save the world.