One of the worst problems you can have during a food movie -- in this case, Anthony Lucero's East Side Sushi -- is not having food to eat while watching it. But one could say that stirring up hunger pains is exactly what a good foodie movie is supposed to do.
East Side Sushi is a fiction film about Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres), a Latina woman living on the east side of Oakland, scrapping by to make a living for her elderly father and young daughter. Through the movie, you see her working several jobs to make ends meet, as well as the stereotypes she has to put up with, the mean bosses, the language barrier, the meagre wage, the early mornings and late nights. It’s a story that many immigrants to America can connect to, working your butt off to just survive in this "land of plenty."
Amidst her financial difficulties, Juana remains a caring and hard-working person, stating at one point that she can lift 50 pounds, no problem, and that if she can't, she will walk out, no problem. It is this strong spirit and pride that first draws us to the character, and the likeability only intensifies as the movie goes on.
Juana finds a job at a sushi restaurant where her sharp knife skills and her desire to learn lands her in favour with the master sushi chef -- but in trouble with the traditional owner. From her Mexican father to the Japanese restaurant owner, Juana is confronted from all sides by people with a desire for her to remain within the cultural boundaries society has set up for her. People who tell her there are no Mexican sushi chefs, no woman sushi chefs, and no sushi in Mexican culture ultimately drive Juana to push herself to her limits, displaying intense emotional determination as well as a certain stubbornness. She doesn't want to be a supporting player in the back. She'd rather gain glorious recognition in light for her skills, creativity, and strength.
This movie is not just about sushi and making sushi; it is a story about one woman’s desire to finally succeed in something that she’s passionate about and to get approval doing it. In the meantime, East Side Sushi also touches on social issues including the security of east side Oakland, financial difficulties, and gender and cultural stereotypes in our society. Why aren’t there many women sushi chefs? Why do we always look for authenticity and sometimes even value that over hybridity in this "global" marketplace?
With the film's relatable main character (and bonus points for the mouth-watering plates of sushi; testimony: I went and got sushi right after), East Side Sushi overcomes its low-budget look and not-so-clean cuts with its irresistible plotline and Juana’s quiet but emotional battle for success.
East Side Sushi will be playing in San Francisco on March 15 and 20, and Oakland on March 22. Check out more films playing at CAAMFest 2014 at their official website.