It’s strange how a compact, easy-going indie film can still hit upon bigger issues in an unusual culture clash that doesn’t have over-dramatic scenes.
Diana Elizabeth Torres is Juana, a single mother who is a talented cook but works as a cleaner and fruit cart seller. After an incident selling fruit, she decides to seek work elsewhere and is hired to work in the kitchen at a Japanese restaurant. Learning how to make sushi from her friend Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), a chef at the restaurant, and from practicing at home, she asks to be given the chance to be Sushi chef but, as she is a woman and not Japanese, she is refused. So she decides to prove herself by entering a competition to see once and for all if she is as good as any other Sushi chef.
The story is unusual and not you would usually see in “mainstream” cinema. Having a Mexican woman work towards being a Sushi chef is a different kind of culture clash. The restaurant owner wants authenticity above expertise but Juana just wants an opportunity. The weakest part of the film was the Sushi competition, as this is where the film showed its low budget, which is shame as it was an excellent plot point to showcase what Juana has achieved throughout the film.
Although the story is refreshingly different, Juana’s character is, at first, not. She is a single mother, living with her father and she works to pay the bills and nothing more. It’s a shame that Juana’s character wasn’t different. It seems that in order for a character to be interesting and for the audience to want to route for her she must have “family baggage”, which is usually what’s given to a female character who has to prove herself. Her character would have been just as compelling or more so if she had other struggles in her life. It’s almost stereotypical.
The script did feel a bit stiff in places, having the characters talk in clichés and odd sentences, but aside from this, a more enjoyable aspect of the story was the friendship between Juana and Aki. At first he needs her help and can see that she is willing to learn; that this isn’t just a job, this could be a career for her. He’s happy to teach her and she doesn’t quite see him as a mentor but as a friend which is what the film needed to balance between family and work.
Ultimately, this is a delightful light drama about how everyone deserves an opportunity no matter who they are or where they are from.
Dir: Anthony Lucero
Prd: Julie Rubio
Scr: Anthony Lucero
Cast: Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi, Rodrigo Duarte Clark
DoP: Martin Rosenberg
Music: Alex Mandel
Country: USA, Mexico
Runtime: 100 mins
East Side Sushi is released on 23rd January.