By Lupita Peimbert.
Fruitvale is a predominantly Mexican and immigrant neighborhood on the East side of Oakland, California. Many of the families there hold tight to the customs and traditions of the country they originally came from. Food, for instance, has been kept authentic. One can easily find tacos, birria, menudo, huaraches, tortas ahogadas, and fresh fruit as one would find them in Mexico and other Latin American countries, but now you are on International Blvd., a business district where Latino restaurants and fruit carts have prepared and sold Mexican food for decades, a la Fruitvale.
Working-class, single mother Juana emerges from that setting taking a route different from the usual: she wants to become a sushi chef. To her family, that means she is departing from her roots, and to others, Juana may not be good enough not only because she is not Japanese, but also because she is a woman. Watch Juana, and see how far her determination takes her.
The film is called East Side Sushi because Juana lives on the East side of town, –that is where you often find minority and immigrant communities. I would have called it Sushi con Poblano Pepper.
“It is a fictional story in a narrative form, documentary style, hand-held. A film to feel real,” says the film’s director and writer Anthony Lucero, who grew up in Fruitvale and is Mexican-American. “I didn’t want any stereotypes of any kind, and focus on the story of the underdog.”
The film was pre-planned to start slow, Lucero says, and it is meant to grab you at some point, keeping you watching, like the cinema in the 70s, and like many French movies.
East Side Sushi implies romance subtly. Juana becomes friends with Aki, the sushi chef at a Japanese restaurant where she works cleaning the kitchen; a connection develops between the two, and as you watch them interact you want them to kiss… (I won’t tell you what happens.)
East Side Sushi has won awards and special recognition at 16 film festivals the Napa Valley Film Festival among them. It opens on Friday, September 18th at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, and at other art cinemas in California.
What I like best about East Side Sushi is that the film tells an immigrant’s story with accuracy, reflecting life beyond the usual stereotypes. It shows a single mother and her striving to raise her daughter. It shows a woman, a Mexican-immigrant family, and working-class people with dignity and respect. It presents aspects of the Japanese culture with a certain reverence, respecting its traditional views.
The main character, Juana, is played very nicely by actress Diana Elizabeth Torres, originally from Sinaloa, Mexico. Diana reminds me of Salma Hayek, and I appreciate her command of English and Spanish. The main sushi chef, Aki, is played by Yutaka Takeuchi, an actor originally from Gifu, Japan who you may have seen in The Last Samurai. Takeuchi is a good actor, and see his name getting bigger and bigger.
East Side Sushi is a beautiful immigrant story told with cultural accuracy. Anthony Lucero assembled a very good group of producers, actors, and film professionals –many of whom worked for free and achieved a film worth seeing and learning from. The music by Alex Mandel is quite good. The guy is seemingly caucasian but the music made for this film shows a Latin soul within him. -Dude, your music gets the attention ;-)!
East Side Sushi opens Friday, September 18th in several art cinemas in the Bay Area and beyond. I recommend it. ¡Hay que verla!
Look for East Side Sushi at the following theaters:
Grand Lake Theater, Oakland;
Camera 12, San Jose;
Kabuki, San Francisco;
C. Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael.
Also on Sept 18, look for this movie in Pico Rivera, Monterey Park, W. Hollywood, San Diego, Salinas, and Bakersfield.