By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts & Entertainment
If there was ever an occasion for actor Yutaka Takeuchi to be strolling around Little Tokyo sporting a comically large sombrero, Tuesday was the day – it was, after all, Cinco de Mayo.
But Takeuchi was also on official business. He was out promoting this weekend’s Downtown screenings of the film “East Side Sushi,” in which he stars with Diana Elizabeth Torres. When the two stopped by the offices of The Rafu Shimpo, they were caught by surprise to see the director of the movie, Anthony Lucero, in the midst of an interview about the film.
“Oh, my, that hat!” was the initial reaction from Lucero, in response to the sombrero emblazoned with “Viva Mexico.”
It was attire apropos of the day as well as the film. “East Side Sushi” follows the path of a young woman (Torres) whose sidewalk fruit cart business comes to an abrupt end, forcing her to seek employment elsewhere. She happens upon a sushi restaurant and figures she can work was part of the kitchen staff. There, she is befriended by one of the sushi chefs (Takeuchi) and is absorbed into the world of Japanese cuisine – a world that has traditionally been dominated by men.
“As I was developing the story, I really began to like the cross-cultural aspects involved,” said Lucero, who is based in Northern California and directed from his own screenplay. “It began to spill over into questions of sexism, racism, and combating the barriers to answering your true calling.”
“East Side Sushi” has received highly positive reviews and has won a slew of festival awards, including Best Feature at the Beloit International and Heartland festivals, Best Screenplay at Napa Valley, and audience awards at Cinequest, Caamfest, and S.F. Indiefest. It is showing Saturday and again next Wednesday as part of the Hola Mexican Film Festival.
“When I first heard about this project,” I wasn’t really interested, said Takeuchi, whose career includes blockbusters like “The Last Samurai” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.” “But when I read the script, I knew this was a great opportunity.”
Takeuchi, in fact, was so enthusiastic about the role that he arrived at the audition dressed in authentic sushi chef attire.
Torres, originally from Sinaloa, has been a seasoned actor in Mexico, and has begun to make a name for herself stateside. She said working on “East Side Sushi” was a family-building experience, as she became very close to the crew and the cast, which also features Lane Nishikawa, Miyoko Sakatani and Roji Oyama.
“East Side Sushi” screens at 9 p.m. this Saturday, May 9, and at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, at the Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live. For more information, visit www.eastsidesushifilm.com or http://holamexicoff.com/public/.