East Side Sushi


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

East Side Sushi
"Though the story is straightforward, Torres' fierce performance gives it passion and energy."

A modest little film that's proving to be a real crowd-pleaser, East Side Sushi is the story of one woman's struggle to improve herself and to break through barriers related to her sex, race and class. With down to earth characters and a grounded perspective throughout, it provides a snapshot of a life that many viewers will be able to relate to.

Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is a Latina single mother working long hours to support her family and put her daughter through school - the traditional immigrant dream of making life better for the next generation, even at the coast of one's own. She has a job at a gym where her talents are wasted and she also helps her father run a fruit cart, but muggers preying on cart vendors is making this increasingly dangerous. Whilst her father's solution to everything is simply to work more and work harder, Juana is looking for a way out, and one day, on a whim, she applies for a job in a Japanese restaurant.

Copy picture

A culture clash tale focused on character rather than comedy, the story unfolds predictably to see Juana falling in love with sushi (once she discovers it's not supposed to be like the awful dry stuff found in supermarkets) and growing determined that she wants to become a sushi chef. The problem? She's a woman so, tradition has it, her hands will be too warm; and she's Latina, so customers at the restaurant won't see her food as authentic. Restaurant owner Mr Yoshida (Roji Oyama) repeatedly refuses her requests for promotion despite her obvious talent. Meanwhile, Juana sets her sights on a television sushi competition. It's always clear that she'll make it to the final; the only question is whether she'll get the Disney ending or the Rocky ending.

Though the story is straightforward, Torres' fierce performance gives it passion and energy. It's perfectly counterpointed by that of Yutaka Takeuchi, who shines as quiet but supportive co-worker Aki. It's refreshing to see a film about a close friendship between a man and a woman that doesn't hinge on romance, just as it's refreshing to see a film about a single woman for whom the pursuit of happiness is focused on career. As Juana's father points out, she could easily make money as a chef in a Mexican restaurant. This isn't just about getting by, it's about learning and self-realisation.

Throughout the film, Juana's growing love of sushi is communicated through fitting indulgent shots of it being prepared, dressed and eaten. Be warned: if there is a sushi restaurant nearby, this film will end up costing you a lot more than the ticket price. Though the focus on food is not quite as intense as in films like Tampopo or Babette's Feast, it's impossible to watch it without feeling hungry, and it will doubtless inspire many to try and learn the art of sushi-making for themselves. Juana's fusion cooking also provides a few interesting suggestions.

At its strongest when depicting day to day life, East Side Sushi is a simple story with a strong human focus and a lot of heart.

Reviewed on: 04 Sep 2015
Share this with others on...
East Side Sushi packshot
A hard pressed single mother gets a job in a Japanese restaurant and is inspired to pursue a career as a sushi chef.

Director: Anthony Lucero

Writer: Anthony Lucero

Starring: Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi, Rodrigo Duarte Clark, Kaya Jade Aguirre, Lane Nishikawa, Roji Oyama, Miyoko Sakatani

Year: 2014

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Jiro Dreams of Sushi