I kept missing the various screenings of East Side Sushi in San Francisco Bay area. The film screened at the 2014 Cinequest Film Festival and I marked it as “must-watch” film, but never got around to watching it. It won the audience award at Cinequest. The film then screened at CAAMFest and I missed that screening too. Finally, I got to see the film earlier this month and really enjoyed it.
East Side Sushi is the story of a quiet and determined woman, who wants to become a shushi chef. The trouble is most sushi chefs tend to be men and therein lies the tension. This is not a film filled with loud emotions and heated dialog. Instead this is a film with strong and determined emotions, where the points are made in a quiet and understated manner. That, I think, is a refreshing approach.
Anthony Lucero wrote and directed East Side Sushi and filmed it in Oakland. Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is a single Latina mother, who lives with her father (Rodrigo Duarte Clark) and her young daughter. Juana and her father eek out a living selling food from a food cart. Determined to improve things for her daughter and herself Juana applies for a job at a local Japanese restaurant. She hits it off the chef Aki (Yukata Takeuchi), who discovers she has all the ingredients of a good cook: great knife skills and a multi-tasker, who works without complaining under pressure. Juana is not particularly fond of Japanese cuisine, but under the gentle guidance of Aki she discovers the complexity of Japanese food and learns to enjoy it. She starts to pack leftovers so that her family can enjoy her new found discovery of Japanese food. That experiment fails initially, and then her family learns to enjoy Japanese food.
As her interest in Japanese food deepens, Juana is drawn deeper into the world of sushi. With quiet determination she starts to master the craft of making sushi and helps out Aki when the restaurant gets busy. But, there is a catch. Women are not allowed to stand in the sushi bar and roll out sushi, and the owner of the restaurant is aghast that Juana is being allowed to make sushis for his customers. He banishes her to the kitchen and forbids her from making any sushi. Aki tries to makes a case with the owner that Juana is an excellent sushi chef, but his words fall on deaf ears. At first it looks like Juana goes along with the owner’s decision. And then she decides to stands up for her rights to become a sushi chef and makes a case to the owner. The owner is a traditionalist, who does not believe in women sushi chefs. When he does not budge, Juana quits.
Undeterred by her restaurant experience, Juana decides to join a sushi competition. She, of course, is the only woman in the sushi competition. To find out what happens next and if Juana realizes her dream of becoming a sushi chef you have to watch East Side Sushi.
East Side Sushi is a gentle and undemanding film, and Lucero manages to keep your interest. Torres’ portrayal of Juana as a quiet and determined woman is very convincing. I enjoyed watching East Side Sushi and the fact that this is a local film was an additional bonus.