Contributor: Marna Owen My apologies to all my readers and to Marna for not posting this sooner, but I somehow missed seeing it was waiting to be published. If you have tonight free, drop other movie plans and watch this because it is the last night to do so!
If you’re in the mood for a story about cultural identity and cross cultural conflict with a happy ending, get creative with poblano peppers and sticky rice and sit down to a delicious viewing of East Side Sushi, on NextFlix until March 13.
ESS is the story of Juana, a Mexican American and single mother who lives with her widowed father and young daughter Lydia in East Oakland, California. The film begins with scenes of Jauna and her father rising pre-dawn to shop for their fruit cart. Lydia, also roused from her warm bed for the early morning ritual, dozes in a chair before school as they chop and prep the fruit. They work their multiple jobs without complaining, though it’s becoming clear that the father’s aching back is starting to limit his capacity and threaten the family’s ability to pay its bills. When Juana is robbed at gun point after a long day of selling fruit from the cart, it causes her to re-think her career. Seeking new challenges and medical benefits, she lands a job at Osaka Japanese restaurant. Initially, Juana is hired to assist the sushi chefs in basic food prep and clean up. Juana willingly accepts any menial task, but she is also ambitious. She watches, learns, and through practice, begins to excel in creating sushi. Chef Aki recognizes her talent and eventually allows her to prepare more delicate and complicated sushi dishes in the kitchen, even introducing Juana’s “Mayan Sun Roll” on the menu. But when Juana makes a plea to restaurant owner Mr. Akido to take a place with her fellow sushi chefs in front of customers, he refuses. In Japan, sushi is traditionally the domain of men, and Mr. Akido is unwilling to advance Juana, a woman and a Latina, to this level. To do so would risk the authenticity of his restaurant. Juana reminds Mr. Akido that Latinx are vital workers in virtually every restaurant, but almost always playing supporting roles in the kitchen. All she asks for is visibility and reward for her contributions and skill. Mr. Akido is unrelenting. Juana quits and takes a job at a car wash to make ends meet—but her culinary journey continues.
Film maker Anthony Lucero showcases the city of Oakland and in particular the vibrant Latinx community of the Fruitvale District and International Boulevard. He gives equal homage to the art of sushi, shooting in two local Oakland restaurants, Coach Sushi and Midori, both on Grand Avenue.
For more interesting reading about women sushi chefs: