East Side Sushi (Review)

A little gem of a film

by Martin Hafer

I noticed some time ago that some of my favorite films are about food -- perhaps it's because I love to cook. Off the top of my head, I can quickly think of some real classic food-based movies, such as Babette's Feast, Mostly Martha, The Big Night and The Hundred-Foot Journey. I just might be adding a new film to this list, namely Anthony Lucero's East Side Sushi. The film is not yet scheduled for a nation-wide release, but there are going to be some limited engagements in California theaters starting September 18th, most likely because the audiences there have a large concentration of Hispanic-Americans (and the leading character is a Mexican-American).  I sure hope it comes to other markets, as this film is a little gem.

East Side Sushi
Written & Directed by
Anthony Lucero
Cast
Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi, Jesus Fuentes
Release Date
18 September 2015
Martin's Grade: A


Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is a brilliant cook, but she and her father are struggling to raise her daughter. Their pay is meager and her job selling fruit on the streets has become rather dangerous.  On a lark, she decides to go to work at a local Japanese restaurant instead of doing her usual Mexican-style cooking.  Here at the restaurant, she does a lot of the preperation, and the sushi chefs do the actual sushi work. Surprisingly, Juana is fascinated by their work and soon realizes that sushi is delicious, so with only a little bit of help to get her started, she teaches herself how to make sushi.  After a year of practice on her family, Juana is quite accomplished and is ready to make the leap in the restaurant from prep work to sushi. But there is a problem.  Mexican-Americans don't work in sushi bars and everyone knows only Japanese men can excel in this art ... right?!  Well, Juana is determined and conventional wisdom may not be right after all.

The main reason I enjoyed East Side Sushi is that it's about people.  Because of the wonderful performances and solid direction, you can believe that Juana is a real person and not just a plot device.  You feel for her, you see her struggle, you like her and want her to succeed.  I like movies about people and their everyday lives, and this one really works for me.  I also appreciate that many times I expected things to happen one way in the movie, but writer-director Lucero chose to avoid the cliches and formula keeping me guessing.  Overall, this is a lovely little film -- one that left me hungry for more.

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