From Shall We Dance?
to Swing Girls
, there's a special place in Japanese cinema for films about underdogs finding their groove. This time our zeroes-to-heroes discover hula dancing in 1960s Japan. Entertaining, dynamic, and bursting with energy, Hula Girls
is also a good deal more than a simple youth pop flick. The film is based on the true story about one mining town's inventive decision to save itself through hula. The dated setting and conservative social background bring in extra layers of concerns and complications to the story, and Japanese-Korean director Lee Sang Il (Scrap Heaven
) assuredly weaves the different elements into a coherent, compelling film. Hula Girls
won over both critics and moviegoers alike, building a wide audience through strong word of mouth.
The sleepy mining town of Iwaki is slowly heading for the hills, so the mining company decides to start a Hawaiian Center amongst the coal mines to attract tourists. As a further gimmick, local girls will give hula performances. Dance teacher Madoka (Matsuyuki Yasuko, Another Heaven) is especially hired from Tokyo, but most of the local girls balk when they realize hula involves hip shaking and mid-riff baring. The motley bunch that remains consists of stubborn Kimiko (Aoi Yu, Hana and Alice), her star-struck friend Sanae (Tokunaga Eri), bespectacled mother Shoko (Ikezu Shoko), and big-boned Sayuri (Yamazaki Shizuyo). None of the girls can dance, Madoka isn't all that interested in teaching, and many of the townspeople are less than happy about this newfangled hula business. The whole idea seems destined for failure, but when Madoka sees the girls' fighting spirit, she becomes determined to teach them how to hula.
Hula Girls was the big winner of 2006. The film won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Actress (Aoi Yu) at the 30th Japan Academy Awards. At the Blue Ribbon Awards, the film was named Best Picture, and Aoi Yu and Fuji Sumiko won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.