From Shall We Dance? to Waterboys 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 Girl 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 director Lee Sang Il (Scrap Heaven) assuredly weaves the different elements into a coherent, compelling film. Hula Girl won over both critics and moviegoers alike, building a wide audience through strong word of mouth. The film was nominated in 11 categories at the 2007 Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography. In addition, actresses Matsuyuki Yasuko (Another Heaven), Aoi Yu (Hana and Alice), Sumiko Fuji, and Yamazaki Shizuyo all received acting nominations.
The sleepy mining town of Joban is slowly heading for the hills, so town leader Yoshimoto (Ittoku Kishibe) decides to start a Hawaiian Center amongst the coal mines to attract tourists. As a further gimmick, local girls will give hula performances. He hires dance teacher Madoka (Matsuyuki Yasuko) from Tokyo, and goes about recruiting dancers, but most of the girls balk when they realize hula involves hip shaking and mid-riff baring. The motley bunch that remains consists of sassy Kimiko (Aoi Yu), her star-struck friend Sanae (Tokunaga Eri), mousy 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.
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