Title: Hula Girls
Starring: Yu Aoi, Etsushi Toyokawa, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Sumiko Fuji, Ittoku Kishibe
Directed by: Lee Sang-Il
Format: Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
Studio: VIZ Pictures
May Contain Spoilers
It’s been a long time since I’ve taken the time to sit down and watch anything other than my favorite TV show, Ninja Warrior. This movie arrived at a good time; it’s my birthday, so I planned for a lazy weekend. So, stuffed with seafood stew from Mitchell’s Seafood Market, I fired up the DVD player and settled in for the first movie night I’ve had in about, oh, a year. Buu choose to watch with me; Mr Manga Maniac opted for football downstairs.
Hula Girls is based on the true story of Iwaki, a small mining town in the throes of decline. When the townsfolk learn that the mine will be letting people go and opening a Hawaiian Center to lure tourists to the town, they feel betrayed and angry. How can their cold, northern town ever be transformed into Hawaii? Thinking that the entire idea is hair-brained at best, they are soon divided at the notion of their daughters becoming hula dancers to entertain the Hawaiian Center’s visitors. As family members and residents squabble amongst themselves, a group of determined young ladies practice relentlessly, intent on saving their humble town and bettering their own lives. With so many people against them, is it possible for their dreams to come true?
Though the pacing was a little slow in parts, this was a heart-warming, emotionally involving movie. The cast was very good, especially Yu Aio, who played Kimiko, the lead dancer, and Yasuko Matsuyuki, who played Madoka Hirayama, a down on her luck dancer who has been recruited from Tokyo to teach the girls to dance. Eri Tokunaga turned in an emotionally riveting performance as Sanae Kimura, the girl first taken in by her dreams of being a professional dancer and escaping the grime of her coal mining town. The scene between her and her father, after he had just been fired from his job, was heart-breaking. Taking his frustrations out on his daughter, Sanae learns the hard way that some dreams aren’t meant to be.
Following the girls as Hirayama slowly transforms the clumsy dance troupe into a group of professional hula dancers, they meet with opposition at all sides. Pitting mother against daughter and even causing rifts in life-long friendships, the movie explores how the girls become a united force to save their families and their town.
The movie is full of cliches, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Hirayama, the teacher, arrives in town drunk, clutching an air of superiority around herself after meeting the girls she’s expected to transform into dancers. Sporting a barbed tongue and a don’t mess with me attitude, her demeanor is slowly softened as she comes to know and like her students. Hulking Sayuri, raised by her father, is self-conscious and a klutz, with no grace and no sense of rhythm. Do we have to worry that she won’t make the cut and step confidently onstage? No, not in this feel good melodrama. The film delivers a satisfying conclusion, and we walk away with the hope that young dancers and the town they are fighting to save will all meet with a brighter tomorrow.
Included Special Features: Director & cast profile, VIZ Pictures Presents, The Making of Hula Girls, How to be a Hula Girl, Hula Girls: The real story, an interview with Jake Shimaukuro, and original Japanese Trailers.
Review copy provided by VIZ