Oct. 4, 2015 at 11:09 p.m.
EAST SIDE SUSHI (2015)
Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi, Rodrigo Duarte Clark, Kaya Jade Aguirre, Roji Oyama, Miyoko Sakatani, Lane Nishikawa
Directed by Anthony Lucero
The Far East meets the West Coast in this delectable film about a Mexican-American single mom and amateur cook who longs to become a sushi chef after she’s hired to help out in the kitchen at a popular Japanese restaurant in Oakland, California.
Diana Elizabeth Torres plays Juana, a wonderful cook who’s mastered tradition Mexican dishes like Mole and Carne Asada. Her young daughter Lydia (Kaya Jade Aguirre) attends an elementary Catholic school so Juana holds down two jobs to pay the tuition and make ends meet. When she’s not working part-time at the gym, Juana runs a fruit cart with her widowed dad, Apa (Rodrigo Duarte Clark).
When a couple of thugs rob and beat Juana at gunpoint, she decides the fruit cart is not worth the risk and begins looking for a regular job that offers medical benefits. A help wanted sign at Osaka, a popular Japanese restaurant in downtown Oakland, peaks Juana’s curiosity and on a whim she applies for the job. She’s hired to help out in the kitchen but quickly moves up from washing dishes to food prep after head sushi chef Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi) notices her skills with a knife. He takes her under his wing and soon begins to show Juana how to select the freshest fish and perfectly cook the vinegar rice.
At first Apa is not happy with his daughter’s new job, he thinks she should work as a chef in a taqueria, but after a year at Osaka, the ambitious cook is ready to move out from behind the kitchen to work alongside Aki at the Sushi bar. Juana has been honing her skills making sushi at home and in the restaurant whenever they get swamped and Aki gets overwhelmed, although he’s the only one who knows she’s helping out at Osaka until the restaurant’s traditionalist owner, Mr. Yoshida (Roji Oyama) catches her in the stockroom making sushi. Yoshida shatters her dream of becoming a sushi chef when he informs her that she will never work behind the sushi bar because she’s Latin and a female, but the resolute Juana decides if Yoshida won’t give her a shot then she’ll go it alone.
Torres resembles a young Salma Hayek, and the talented actress shines in the role as the ambitious chef. The film takes a Food Network turn when Juana decides to audition for a competition show called “Champions of Sushi” where contestants are timed at making traditional Japanese sushi as well as inventing a signature dish.
As a foodie I can tell you the sushi looks amazing and I love the Mexican-Japanese fusion as Juana injects her roots into the traditional dishes by adding jalapeño and substituting Poblano peppers for seaweed. The film was beautifully shot in Oakland by first-time filmmaker Anthony Lucero, a native of the city, and the “let’s root for the underdog” theme keeps audiences content. “East Side Sushi” satisfies your appetite for good movies but leaves you hungry after seeing all these enticing dishes. Now where can I get a Green Diablo Roll?
(3 ½ stars)
Now playing in the Houston area at the Cinema Latino de Pasadena
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