The sushi craze's dark side: Texas film shows how foodies threaten to make tunararer than oil
Hut one! Hut two! Hut Sushi?
Have you heard the one about the Texas high school that sells sushi at its football games? Me either, but it’s no joke.
Austin-based filmmaker/lawyer/Internet pioneer Mark Hall shared that little tidbit as we talked about his award-winning documentary, Sushi: The Global Catch.
Foodies everywhere are gobbling up bluefin tuna at such a rate that, as the film puts it, “We’ll run out of tuna before we run out of oil.”
When a food becomes so popular as to be welcomed at the holy gridirons of Lone Star high school, you know it’s entered the mainstream.
Though Hall can’t remember the name of the school with such gourmet concessions (“It’s in the Dallas/Fort Worth area,” he says) this is just one more indicator that Tokyo’s ancient cuisine has been embraced by the whole modern world.
While there’s no immediate danger of raw fish replacing hot dogs and popcorn on game nights, Hall says its demand has exploded absolutely everywhere on the planet, even in such other unlikely places (you’d think) as Poland. But indeed, Warsaw is where the seed was planted for Sushi, Hall’s feature-length documentary. Already, this film is spawning a sequel, a book (contract signed) and possibly a TV series.
He’ll be returning to Japan soon to shoot stills for the book and prep for Sushi 2.
Hall, who grew up in Houston and whose parents “still live in Memorial,” told me the story of how his award-winning film came about. (And if you think going to film school had something to do with it, you’d be way off the mark. Pun intended.)
One bluefin tuna can easily sell for $100,000 or more on the auction block at Tokyo’s famous fish market.
The short version credits his education in business, law and languages: A degree in finance with a minor in German from Texas A&M, an MBA with a specialization in international finance and Japanese language from the American Graduate School of International Management, and a law degree from Southern Methodist University which included a semester studying international financial law in London.
Hall was awarded a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Investment to attend classes at the Boeki Kenshu Center in Fujinomiya, Japan. He is fluent in Japanese and German and has a working knowledge of Polish, Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish.
And to think I was able to converse with this man! (Well, I did have four years of Latin in high school.)
Hall says he’s always had to have “some creative thing to do other than lawyering.” In 1998 he began his involvement with the film industry and became an active member of the Austin Film Society. As he provided Austin filmmakers with legal and business advice, he eventually began writing, directing and producing films himself, including a documentary for television Mission on Seven that explored the film archive at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center.
Back to Poland.
While working in Warsaw as an international attorney. Hall joined some “government people” for lunch one day after a meeting. Expecting a typical Polish restaurant (lots of meat) he was surprised by their choice of a newly-opened sushi bar!
This got him to thinking. (By now you know Hall’s one serious thinker.) He saw the cuisine as “emblematic of how economies have rapidly globalized. “
Apparently, foodies everywhere are gobbling up bluefin tuna, specifically, at such a rate that, as his film puts it, “We’ll run out of tuna before we run out of oil.” That’s in spite of its expensive price tag — one bluefin tuna can easily sell for $100,000 or more on the auction block at Tokyo’s famous fish market.
Who knew that it was possible to run out of fish?
With that revelation, the film argues for sustainable sushi bars that offer tuna alternatives in their roll. Interviews with fishermen, environment activists and restaurateurs, including celebrated chef Tyson Cole — owner of Uchi on Westheimer (a sushi lover’s paradise) — are featured.
Through his film, Hall examines the traditions, global growth and potential consequences of a cuisine gone wild. Who knew that it was possible to run out of fish? Aren’t there zillions of them?
The coveted bluefin tuna, which takes several years to mature to its full size, is being caught too early and over fished. If a predator fish is fished out of existence, its former prey’s population explodes upsetting nature’s balance. Hall believes it could cause the collapse of oceans.
And where would that leave people?
Four years ago, Hall created Sakana Film Productions, an entity to produce documentaries focused on culture, food and politics (Sakana means fish in Japanese). His firm film under that banner is Sushi: The Global Catch which he produced and directed throughout five countries.
Brian Satterwhite, another gifted native Houstonian, composed the score for the soundtrack. Hall believes the music is great enough that it can stand on its own. I don’t doubt it. I met Satterwhite while we were working on an independent horror film in Houston called Mr. Hell. His spooky, throbbing score was so perfect I can still call it up in my head. That was six years ago.
Since then, Satterwhite has written scores for more than 90 short and feature films and accumulated 11 Gold Medals of Excellence from the Park City Film Music Festival.
Yet another Houston native, Catie Cacci edited Sushi. I feel like a mama hen, so proud that our city’s talents are producing such award-winning films with the promise of more to come.
Both Hall and Satterwhite will be at Saturday's screening. Going yourself is one way to support Texas filmmaking.