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East Side Sushi

East Side Sushi

The middle of the night is the start of the workday for single mother Juana Martinez (Diana Elizabeth Torres), who helps her father, Apa (Rodrigo Duarte Clark), with his roadside fruit cart in East Oakland, California. Writer/director Anthony Lucero details the exhaustion and tedium in East Side Sushi, following Apa and Juana as they bring her sleeping daughter Lydia (Kaya Jade Aguirre) along for early-morning food prep before dropping her at elementary school. In addition to the cart, they work shifts at second jobs.

Lucero presents this typical day with a matter-of-factness that shows Juana’s frustration at the long hours in jobs that don’t tap her intelligence or creativity, but he also demonstrates her pride in her work. It’s only when Juana joins the kitchen staff at a Japanese restaurant that she begins to see new possibilities. East Side Sushi captures the grind and pleasure of the food industry as Juana shifts from numbing routine to a challenging cuisine.

She emulates calm, assured sushi chef Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), who encourages her to experience new tastes at employee family meals. Her Mexican father may wish that she’d work at a taqueria, but now Juana dreams only of sushi. This lovely debut film contains all the ingredients of a culture-clash drama, which Lucero handles with a light touch. Juana may flout tradition by wanting to move from the back of the house to the front sushi counter, but she respects the discipline and artistry of her chosen fare.

Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on September 18, 2015 by Blue Sun Pictures and Sparklight Films
First published in LA Weekly, 2015.