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“One Fish Two Fish”

“A FISH IS A FISH is a fish, right?” asks Kristin Scott Thomas incredulously, as the PM’s press secretary Patricia Maxwell in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” a unique romantic comedy spawned by the Paul Torday novel and the unlikeliest of plots: a progressive sheik and fishing enthusiast (played by Amr Waked) dreams of one day creating a salmon run in the arid deserts of Yemen.  This not only entails the relocation of 10,000 North Atlantic salmon to Yemen but a way to improve the Middle East’s image amongst British voters.  The wealthy sheik has friends in high places, including his assistant Harriet (the lovely Emily Blunt) and Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries scholar brought on to jumpstart the project.  The possibility of a romance is floated: Harriet’s boyfriend (Tom Mison) has been deployed to fight overseas and Fred’s estranged wife is as cold as ice.  Because the film is directed by Lasse (“Chocolat” and “Dear John”) Hallstrom, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” has a mildness to it, however, closer to monkfish than the pungency of salmon.  Well performed and paced, Hallstrom’s fish-of-the-day is a total original: it swims upstream whereas most rom-coms are mere groupers and cling to cliché.

Another fishy film to wash ashore is David Gelb’s debut documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” which centers on sushi-master and octogenarian Jiro Ono, chef and restaurateur who runs this tight ship: a basement-level establishment called Sukiyabashi Jiro in the Ginza district of Tokyo where just 10 patrons at a time will pay upward to 30,000 yen to belly up to the bar.  Gelb’s film elevates the chef to the level of demigod; watch as he instructs his diligent sons, especially Yoshikazu who weathers his father’s blows and manages the restaurant along with a team of aspiring chefs told to massage octopus for hours on end and handle fatty tuna like it’s fine china.  Gelb’s dreamy documentary really crests when it leaves the table: it’s not, of course, a study in sushi but in Chef Ono’s incredible dedication to his art.  It’s more a study in character and the determination to perfect one’s craft than a loving look at what’s on the plate.

With both these fresh catches in mind, it’s worth recalling the famous lines of Rudyard Kipling whose separatist song goes like this: “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.”  In both “Salmon Fishing” and “Jiro Dreams,” East meets West and that meeting place smells fabulously fishy.