OIFF: East Side Sushi

dir: Anthony Lucero, 2014

The 2015 Oakland International Film Festival is finally here. If you haven’t bought tix, you can find them and the schedule heyuh.

So anywho, I got to see East Side Sushi. And I was very happy that I decided to thug it out and hit the opening night to do so. The film follows young but industrious Juana as she navigates life as a single mother trying to make ends meet in East Oakland. Her passion for cooking leads her to a local sushi spot where she falls in love with the art of sushi itself.

I fuckin’ love food movies. And East Side, once it picks up, is a beautifully engineered food movie. Lucero revealed after the film that every chef shown in the film is actually a sushi chef in real life (besides Juana). This lends a certain authenticity to the film that strengthens the narrative and themes.

Speaking of which, authenticity is a heavy theme in East Side. On a surface level, it acts as the given barrier and reason for Juana’s inability to penetrate the upper echelons of Japanese cookery. However, Juana herself is no fool. During a incredibly deep and emotional scene, she cuts right into the heart of this facade, literally arresting the motion of the film with her passionate rebukes of both the sexism and racism hidden in “authenticity.” This speech is equally powerful for its analysis of Juana’s on-screen problems and the larger structural racism inherent in treating Latin@s (and specifically, Mexicans) as an underclass. Not only the restaurant business mind you, but America at large. While the film doesn’t force these politics too much (because it is truly a film about a woman, and food,) the scene and its meaning are thoroughly poignant.

Speaking of poignancy — one great thing about East Side is that it doesn’t compromise itself. By this I mean that it clearly presents itself as a classic “woman in a world of men” narrative, but it specifically sides with Juana. Yes, it shows the different POV’s of characters around her, but East Side specifically follows a line of thought that Juana is a woman who is trying to figure it out. She is not here to be subsumed by the men around her, even her father. This is of particular interest when we consider her late-act love interest, Aki.

While the film telegraphs the romantic tension between the two, it does not detour into a love story. Rather, East Side steers continuously through Juana’s perspective and her passions. So much so, that the eventual joining of Aki and Juana is simply a by-product, not a focus. Yes, the film does hint at courting and flirtation (including untranslated admissions of amorous feelings.) But Lucero himself admitted that it was not a priority during Q & A, saying that he was flattered that viewers wanted to know “do Juana and Aki get together in the end?” because he personally didn’t want to make a romance — he wanted to make a film about Juana and food, with Oakland as a backdrop.

This insight makes East Side that much more refreshing.

Technically, the film is well shot and handled. And, it’s great to actually see how sushi is made. Given the professional help on-set, viewers are given a practical but well-woven introduction to the act of making sushi, as a culture and practice. My only real gripe is the sound mix. At times, characters seem to be lip-syncing their own lines. I don’t know if I’m getting old, or if that is a more technical issue. But something felt a bit off, especially in the latter half of the film.

All in all though, East Side is a heartfelt film that address a slew of social issues easily while capturing a simple story about the struggle to pursue one’s passions.

If you got to see it, cool. If not, however, I hope that you get to in the near future.

these boots mine. The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™,  dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things.  He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things.  Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope

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