Movie review of “East Side Sushi”: This charming little picture tells the tale of a young Latina woman (played by Diana Elizabeth Torres) pursuing the unlikely dream of becoming a sushi chef. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“East Side Sushi” is a charming little picture. The first full-length feature from Oakland, Calif.-born filmmaker Anthony Lucero, it’s set in the director’s hometown and is the tale of a young Latina woman pursuing the unlikely dream of becoming a sushi chef.
The odds are predictably stacked against her as she strives to break into a profession traditionally restricted to Japanese men. But where there’s a will there’s a way, especially in a movie like this. Which is all about the will to confound tradition and triumph over adversity.
It’s a tale told hundreds of times in movies, in other words, but what makes “Sushi” a low-key delight is the engaging performance of Diana Elizabeth Torres, who plays the heroine.
Movie Review ★★★
‘East Side Sushi,’ with Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi. Written and directed by Anthony Lucero. 100 minutes. Not rated; for general audiences. Sundance Cinemas (21+), Ark Lodge Cinemas (Lucero will attend the 7 p.m. Nov. 14 screening at Ark Lodge).
Her character, Juana, a Mexican immigrant single mother of a daughter about 9 years old, is a figure of quiet determination. She knows the ins and outs of food preparation, having eked out a living operating a streetside fruit cart. And she knows she wants a better life than a mere subsistence existence for her child and herself. When a “Help Wanted” sign in the window of a downtown sushi restaurant catches her eye, and she’s hired, her education in sushi making begins.
In close-ups of her hands, deftly slicing and manipulating ingredients, and of her face, reflecting intense concentration and eagerness to learn, Lucero captures Juana’s culinary expertise and her determination to master the intricacies of the art of sushi.
Her skill and persistence increasingly impress the restaurant’s lead chef, Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi). He, like most of the other characters, is portrayed with great sympathy. But it’s the combination of warmth and steely resolve in Torres’ performance that wins the viewer’s heart.