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
Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi, Jesus Fuentes
Release Date
18 September 2015
Martin’s Grade: A

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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.