Juana, the heroine of “East Side Sushi,” has run through a series of dead-end jobs in an effort to provide for her daughter. One morning, she gets up at 3:50 to prep fresh fruits and to mind a street cart in East Oakland, only to be robbed of that day’s earnings at gunpoint.
A help-wanted sign attracts Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) to a Japanese restaurant, where she goes for it after some hesitation. Indeed, she’s never even used chopsticks before. But the medical benefits prove irresistible, and the gym where she's working isn’t looking to take her on full time.
At Osaka Restaurant, her knife skills quickly impress chef Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi). She soaks up all the knowledge he imparts, and she practices making sushi at home in hopes of rising through the ranks.
Though the film has trappings of a crowd-pleaser like Jon Favreau’s “Chef,” writer-director Anthony Lucero has left much thematically to unpack.
Although this clearly is the best gig she’s ever lined up, Juana’s father (Rodrigo Duarte Clark) thinks she ought to work in a taqueria instead.
The father’s disapproval isn’t entirely unfounded. Juana eventually does reach that proverbial glass ceiling. No matter how gifted she is, how fast she learns or how hard she works, the restaurant owner worries that perceptions that might come with a Latina sushi chef will tarnish his reputation. So she must prove, again and again, that she belongs.
"East Side Sushi"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood; AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; Cinepolis Pico Rivera