At the highest level, sushi chefs blend artistry and discipline. Apprentice chefs can spend years performing grunt work before they’re even allowed to make rice. The intensity is almost martial.
This is the world of Tokyo Fish Story. Set in Koji’s restaurant, the play wraps around senior apprentice Takashi (Tim Chiou), junior apprentice Nobu (Raymond Lee) and master Koji (James Saito).
Nobu is young, brash and outspoken. He prizes Star Wars and rap music. Takashi is older, the responsible one, a man with weight on his shoulders.
Koji is weathered and frustrated. His restaurant is losing business, and he’s unwilling to make any of the compromises that might restore its luster. He tries to ignore the competing sushi chain with lines around the block. He is old school to the core.
Takashi has ideas, but is unwilling to take on Koji. Nobu prods his colleague to take a stand, but Takashi won’t move beyond the stoicism he learned from the master. He will suffer silently.
The cast is rounded out by Jon Norman Schneider, who plays multiple characters and Tina Chilip as Ama Miyuki, a woman who’s having trouble breaking into the male-dominated sushi world.
Lee’s script and Adrales’ direction approach these characters with great love and respect. They are all trying to master an art form that, fortunately or unfortunately, is also a species of commerce. How do you finesse high standards when the lowest common denominator is winning?
Saito’s Koji is a revelation of understatement. He easily intimidates the much larger Takashi and Nobu doesn’t even feel comfortable in the same room. They may disagree with the master, but they also revere and fear him.
Nobu’s playfulness is a great counterpoint to Takashi’s stoicism. Lee invests him with an element of anarchy and a backbone of dedication. He’ll complain about the abuse, but he won’t stop wanting to be the best. His reaction when he tastes one of Takashi’s creations is priceless. Chilip’s Ama is a midway point between Takashi and Nobu – she’s fun and fierce.
The set captures the details of a working kitchen with excellent sound design: gas burner lighting, switches going on and off, water pouring – always water.
But what really makes this show are the silences. Koji and Takashi; Takashi and Nobu; Takashi and Ama. They’re like the spaces in a Miles Davis number.