Review: East Side Sushi (2014)

Director: Anthony Lucero

Starring: Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi, Rodrigo Duarte Clark

Release Date: 12th November 2014 (US)

The title of the film, East Side Sushi says it all. It’s a mix or at some times a clash of Latino and Asian cultures. A truly California film, shot in Oakland, CA by local writer/director Anthony Lucero. The San Francisco Bay Area is quite a mix of these things. It’s like that here. I viewed the film at The Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA with the filmmakers present. The great thing about living in the Bay Area is that you learn to welcome diversity, as a new influx of world people is arriving all the time. We make it work, but problems can still be underlying and unmentionable.

The film is thought-provoking. Is it wrong to step outside of the box and yet expect to be embraced for it? Maybe because I am a native of San Francisco, I can accept this challenge. We have a mesh of cultures (as does most of the world). It’s not a perfect world though, of course. And so this film presents the premise.

With her dad by her side, Juana is a single mom trying to provide for her daughter. Her dad (Rodrigo Duarte Clark) provides the wisdom/awareness and jolts of support that Juana needs to succeed. The plot begins as she takes a job at a sushi restaurant. When Juana says she wants to be a sushi chef, her dad’s traditional thinking says to stay with her own people, and to work in a taqueria. Juana fights back saying she is already an expert Mexican cook. She wants to be a sushi chef. Perhaps she wants to prove she can despite what society dictates. Or maybe because Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), the head sushi chef introduces her to a world of artful and totally intriguing cooking. Through to the end, Juana challenges the norms.

Another important aspect of the film is when Juana fights to be hired as a sushi chef. Although she proves herself adept, she is still a woman and not Japanese. At home we can cook anything we want. In a restaurant when we pay we want it authentic. We are snobs. Should we stick to our own roles, ethnicities…stereotypes in life? Should we bother to break the mold, even if we really want to?

Juana is thoughtfully played by Diana Elizabeth Torres (originally from Northern Mexico). Juana’s character has a maturity and strength even though it is evident she is still a young woman. She tells her dad that she is thinking about her daughter’s welfare, as well as his, but questions why can’t she do something for herself. Her fighting spirit ignites when she stands up to the sushi restaurant owner, making a universal statement that Latinos make up a majority of kitchen staff and make the restaurants look good. She stands her ground to say that she no longer wants to be hidden, but rather in full view with the other expert chefs. There are lots of images of Juana peeking through the kitchen curtains to watch the pro chefs. She’s not waiting in the wings; she is planning her moves.

The cast is simple, but the impact is profound. It’s basically an independent film, but it is now gaining in distribution.


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