Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

East Side Sushi, or: Tako Taco

I love movies.  I love food.  How pleased am I when I find ways to happily bring these interests together?  Almost as pleased as I feel about the idea of Mexican/Japanese fusion cuisine, conveniently depicted in this week’s pick.

The Film:

East Side Sushi

The Premise:

A Latina single mother struggling to support her daughter is determined to master the art of sushi despite the objections of…I mean, pretty much everyone.

The Ramble:

Juana is a single mother living with her father in Oakland, California.  She is far from living the dream as she works odd jobs trying to make ends meet and fund her daughter’s education.  The family’s main source of income seems to be a fruit cart–that is, until one day Juana is robbed at gunpoint.

Disheartened and quite shaken, Juana’s luck takes a turn when she stumbles across a Help Wanted sign hanging in a sushi restaurant.  Though she’s a talented cook and has some serious skill with knives, the help needed is for a kitchen assistant–cleaning, washing dishes, making rice, and doing some other food prep.

A man in a restaurant kitchen closely oversees a woman chopping vegetables
Insert super quick knife action here.

It’s not long before Juana gets a chance to show off her talents when the kitchen is short-staffed, and sushi chef Aki begins to respect her expertise.  Though initially Juana claims she has tried sushi and didn’t like it, she gives it another try and falls in love with the flavors.  Her father and daughter are less than thrilled, however, when Juana begins making sushi at home instead of their usual Mexican fare.  Juana’s father in particular remains stubbornly critical of her venture into Japanese cooking and her ambitions to master sushi.

Even as Juana makes progress at home, she is held back by the traditional views of the restaurant owner, Mr. Yoshida, and several of the sushi chefs, who claim women’s hands are too warm to make sushi(…?).  However, with the encouragement of Aki, she begins to observe the sushi chefs and pick up their techniques.  When the restaurant is down a sushi chef, Juana impresses Aki with her sushi making, but must create her sushi rolls in the stock room, out of sight of patrons and Mr. Yoshida.

A middle-aged man and a young girl sit at a table, looking skeptically at a plate of sushi in front of them
“Yeah, but is it gluten-free?”

On her own, Juana decides to enter a local sushi competition to prove her skills and perhaps win money for her daughter’s education.  At last, Juana’s father begins to support her efforts as he helps her film a video submission.  It doesn’t hurt at all that he gets to taste test her fusion sushi rolls, featuring jalapeños and poblano peppers.

Her sushi skills ever on the rise, Juana tires of receiving no recognition for her work and decides to make sushi up front with the other chefs.  Of course, this is not received well by Mr. Yoshida or by the bullshit white dudes who complain about the lack of authenticity.  After being denied the option to even apply for the open sushi chef position at the restaurant, Juana chooses to quit rather than endure the disrespect.

A woman, hands on hips, faces a man behind a sushi counter
Sake it to me? (Sorry/not sorry)

Once again working low-paying jobs, barely scraping by, and with no passion for sushi or any other kind of cooking, Juana feels utterly without hope.  Remember that sushi competition, though?  Maybe an opportunity will present itself when a mysterious envelope arrives from the organizers of the competition.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

As a somewhat belated disclaimer, I’m such a sucker for the formulaic following your dreams, overcoming adversity, feel-good film…especially if there’s food involved.  This does follow that formula pretty closely, but brings a unique perspective and presents its characters with nuance and care.  There’s a slow build, but the emotional impact of the film suddenly creeps up–when Juana’s father finally comes around (and gives her one of her mother’s scarves for luck), I had so many feels.  Diana Elizabeth Torres is an absolute gem as Juana, whose quiet determination, compassion, and curiosity come across beautifully on screen.

The film is very interested in questions of authenticity in the restaurant world, and to what extent those ideas are used to maintain the status quo.  In one of Juana’s rare outbursts, she points out the hypocrisy inherent in the sushi restaurant’s illusion of authenticity, as well as the irony that so many Latinos are behind the scenes in every great restaurant yet just one in public view is not accepted.

I also love the subtle yet sweet relationship between Juana and Aki.  Really all they do together is make and eat food, so I feel they have the ideal relationship.  Aki is adorable, supportive, and incredibly proud of Juana’s successes.  Refreshingly, the romance is very subtle and not at all the focus of this film.  It’s nice for Juana to have someone who’s always in her corner, though, and who gifts her with beautiful sharp knives.

However, I’m extremely angry that I can’t actually try any of the mouthwatering combinations Juana creates during this film.  Streaming this film should also come with at least a couple of sushi rolls.

Would Christa chop this one up and roll it into sushi or toss it with last week’s King Salmon? Find out in her post here!

a boy tells another boy in school uniform, "In this world, you're either a wolf or a sheep"
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Excuse My French, or: Children Don’t Make Sense

This week’s film takes us to Egypt, and that universally terrifying place:  a boys’ middle school.  The horror!

The Film:  Excuse My French

Where to Watch:  Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

As our film opens, Hany is the only child in a wealthy Egyptian family.  He attends private school, where he excels academically and is quite popular.  Hany’s family is Christian, and he enjoys attending church.  He is something of an Anglophile, supporting Manchester United and imagining himself the Egyptian Harry Potter.  All seems to be well in Hany’s life until his father suddenly dies, leaving Hany and his cellist mother with very little income.

a boy dressed as Harry Potter with the caption "he's the Egyptian version of Harry Potter"
Can we get an Egyptian version of Harry Potter, though?  I think it would be pretty stellar.

Since the family can no longer afford Hany’s expensive private school, he will attend the local public school for boys, whose students are almost all Muslim.  His mother gives him 2 instructions:  1.  Don’t make friends, and 2.  Don’t talk about religion.

Hany is off to an unfortunate start, sticking out like a sore thumb when he corrects the English teacher’s grammar and points out “Hasta la vista, baby,” is not English, nor is it a line from a classic novel.

The structure of this film is a bit loose, but revolves mostly around Hany’s efforts to fit in with the other students while hiding his identity as a religious minority.  He manages to make a friend in Mo’men, though he makes a decided enemy in the form of Aly, bully and overall unpleasant character.  He is thrilled when his crush, science teacher Nelly, encourages him to develop and present a scientific project to the school.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, not a single student is impressed by such nerdy feats of engineering.

a group of boys in a schoolyard roughhouse
[Insert requisite scene introducing the shocking nightmare that is public school]
Hany is able to fly under the radar for a long time despite skipping out on afternoon prayer and hearing from Mo’men that he can tell a Christian from a mile away.  Of course it’s not until Hany gains power and popularity that things start to unravel.  Hany is named class president despite never running for the position–this school does not do elections the same way my school did.

To fit in better, Hany begins participating in prayer at school, and even enters a religious chanting competition.

two schoolboys stand side by side
I’d also like to see an Egyptian version of Boy Meets World b/c the actor playing Hany looks so much like young Ben Savage.

The situation begins to deteriorate when Hany overhears some older boys planning to follow and grope Nelly.  Typical boy, Hany advises her to dress more modestly rather than reporting the boys to the principal (RAGE).  After the incident, the boys are expelled, but the trouble is only beginning.  Kids are getting beaten up left and right, and I lost track a bit of who and why.

Shortly after, Hany’s identity as a Christian is revealed, he begins taking judo, and he deliberately antagonizes Aly.  Why and what does he hope to accomplish?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really looked forward to seeing a perspective on being a religious minority that is the majority for the US, but I felt a lot of the emphasis was on the behavior of the boys as little creeps rather than as Muslims/Christians.

Also not quite as uplifting as expected?  This isn’t really a heartwarming story of acceptance and religious tolerance–Hany’s classmates never try to be particularly welcoming to him.  However, Hany is a little asshole for so much of the movie, and deliberately bringing in sandwiches to eat during Ramadan is a pretty fucked up thing to do.  I hoped there would be quite  lot of time dedicated to Hany’s relationship with his mother as well.  Though they get along well, there seems to be a lack of emotional depth in their relationship.

Overall, I think watching this film proves irrefutably that I don’t understand children.

Would Christa share a Riesen with this one or abandon it after discovering its true nature?  Find out in her review here!