East Side Sushi (2014)

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East meets West in this very inspiring cooking drama from filmmaker Anthony Lucero.

Juana is a single Mexican-American mother who struggles to make ends meet yet is revered for her cooking abilities. Living with her father and young daughter, Juana runs a fruit cart until she is robbed at gunpoint. Holding a part-time job at a local gym doing cleaning, she feels she is letting everyone down. However, when he sees a “Help Wanted” sign at a local restaurant, she waits a day before deciding she wants to take the job.

Juana gets the job at Osaka restaurant as an assistant to sushi chef Aki. When Aki is surprised by Juana’s cutting, he has her become the food prep sous chef. As Juana embraces the culture of her new job, she decides to up the ante by self-training herself in making sushi. While Aki supports Juana, she must endure the obstacles of not only being a woman, but face a serious case of culture clash as the restaurant owner, Mr. Yoshida, thinks Juana is not worthy to be a sushi chef while her father wants her to stick to making Mexican food. However, a chance to win a $20,000 sushi making contest might change her life forever.

This indie film from Anthony Lucero is quite a meshing of two cultures as we see one woman looking for work to support her family but finds herself in the process. The central focus of the film is the character of Juana, played well by Diana Elizabeth Torres, as she is constantly berated by her father to not only hold a job but stick to her roots of being Mexican. However, her love of cooking allows her to embrace a new culture she never experienced and that is the world of Japanese cuisine. Despite all efforts from her father, Juana becomes determined to become a sushi chef and attempts to overcome the odds.

Yutaka Takeuchi provides excellent support as Aki, the restaurant’s lead sushi chef who serves as a mentor for Juana, eventually blossoming from a teacher-student relationship to a glowing friendship. Roji Oyama plays the stern restaurant owner who is much like Juana’s father as he believes in keeping tradition. Rodrigo Duarte Clark’s Apa is Juana’s father, who believes tradition always means success but it is clear that it is not always the case. He expects Juana to do what she does for her daughter, yet at the same time insists she sticks to their traditional Mexican cuisine. Thankfully, the character of Lydia, Juana’s daughter, proves like her mother, to have an open mind and actually enjoys her mother’s newfound love of making sushi.

The cooking contest that becomes the finale of the film proves to be quite enjoyable to watch. It is clear that as the only non-Asian and only female contestant of the competition, Juana is going to have her plate full. Even the character of former champion Hitoshi Watanabe, played by Tomoharu Nakamura, even blurts out before the competition begins, “I didn’t know we were doing a baking competition”. It’s that mentality that give Juana enough motivation to prove to everyone that no matter where you are from, if you have the heart and commit to hard work, you can achieve anything.

East Side Sushi is definitely a culture clash of sorts, but it’s a fun one revolving around cuisine. Some great performances and a life lesson around traditions and equality make this one to watch.

WFG RATING: A+

A Blue Sun Pictures production in association with Sparklight Films. Director: Anthony Lucero. Producer: Julie Rubio. Writer: Anthony Lucero. Cinematography: Martin Rosenberg. Editing: Anthony Lucero.

Cast: Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi, Rodrigo Duarte Clark, Kaya Jade Aguirre, Roji Oyama, Miyoko Sakatani, Lake Nishikawa, Melissa Locsin, James J. Der Jr., Bartholomew Wang, Edwin Li, Jesus Fuentes, Tomoharu Nakamura, Hiro Makano, Kosuke Muranaka.

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