It’s easy to ramp up stereotypes in stories that deal with the clash of cultures to create tension.
“East Side Sushi” writer-director Anthony Lucero shows that subtle differences between cultures can be presented with great respect and concern. It demonstrates that what makes us different isn’t a tool to fend off others but an access point to share knowledge.
The concerned and caring contrast between cultures in “East Side Sushi” starts with Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres). She has an amazing skill at cooking the foods of her Hispanic heritage. The problem is that she can’t get hired to cook in a restaurant; she’s always relegated to helping behind the scenes.
“East Side Sushi” has become the darling of the film festival circuit.
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That changes when she finally tires of the family’s side business of operating a fruit cart after it becomes the target of another robbery. Juana needs to find a job that will allow her to continue giving her young daughter opportunities.
The solution appears to be a local Japanese restaurant in need of help. Juana quickly learns that no matter how strong her passion to become a sushi chef, there are some Japanese traditions that will get in the way. Again, she’s relegated to working behind the scenes. If she wants to live her dream, it will take some unwavering effort on her part.
“East Side Sushi” could have become a soap box for cultural issues. Instead, Lucero has crafted a beautiful film that has universal themes about family, career and hope. There’s still a great respect shown for the Hispanic and Japanese cultures, but they are presented as a mix with the other topics.
A lot of the credit goes to Torres, who doesn’t play the determined Juana in a militant fashion but as a passionate person who – like so many people – just wants an opportunity to use the skills they have. She’s believable both as the strong employee facing off with a stubborn boss and as a caring and sensitive mother.
Yutaka Takeuchi, who plays Juana’s mentor. Aki, brings a quiet confidence to the role that proves a nice balance to the passion in the performances by Torres. The two work well together because he doesn’t have to be her champion. He stands beside her as an equally strong chef and person.
Lucero also manages to avoid a heavy clichéd plot line when Juana enters a sushi competition. Too often this kind of element tries to turn the main character into a “Rocky”-style contender. Lucero plays it smart, and by doing so keeps the film grounded and relatable.
“East Side Sushi” has become the darling of the film festival circuit. That’s because it is a warm and smart story where cultures come together.
This is a story of people with a shared passion and the woman who’s looking to improve her place in life. It’s a universal theme brought to life by first-rate acting and a direction that lets the audience savor every morsel of this offering.
East Side Sushi
- Stars: Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi
- Directed by Anthony Lucero
- Running time: 100 minutes
- Opens Friday, Sept. 18