(Hula gâru)
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Director Le Sang-il's fourth feature film, HULA
, was the Japanese selection for the 2006
Although it is a very slick, crowd-pleasing movie
-- that is, the sort that usually lands on the
Academy voters' final list -- as I've noted
frequently, 2006 was a banner year for movie
made outside of the United States. There were
several great movies, and some very good ones.
In my estimation,
HULA GIRLS falls into the
latter category.

Set in 1965 at a time when Japan was shifting
from a reliance on coal to petroleum with
devastating effects on local economies. The
leaders of a mine in a small town in
northeastern Japan have decided to build a
Hawaiian Cultural Center in their town as a
means to draw tourists and offset the economic
hardships. These forward thinkers realize that
the mine will eventually be shut down and the
workers will face unemployment. By building this
resort, some will have opportunities to learn
new trades and make a living.

One cannot have a Hawaiian-themed tourist
attraction without hula dancers, so they post
advertisements and many young women initially
show up, including Sanae (Eri Tokunaga), who
dreams of escaping the humdrum existence of
her small town, and her best friend Kimiko (Yu
Aoi), whose widowed mother and older brother
are both employed by the mining company.
Kimiko cuts school to attend the dance classes
which are to be taught by Madoka Hirayama
(Yasuko Matsuyuki) who has been imported from
Tokyo for the job. Clearly the teacher feels the
position is beneath her and when she finds only
four students (in addition to Sanae and Kimiko,
there are Shoko (Shoko Ikezu), an employee of
the mining company with a young son, and the
gawky Sayuri (Shizuyo Yamazaki).

While the outline of the film's plot is fairly
standard and predictable, director Lee Sang-il
and his co-screenwriter Daisuke Habara have
concocted enough obstacles (from the
opposition of Kimiko's mother to her brother's
attraction to the bored teacher to the dance
troupe's difficulties on a road tour) to keep the
audience's interest. When the film reaches its
climax -- with the girls finally dancing before the
residents of their small town -- it arrives there
with a lot of good will and warmth.

Rating:                B
MPAA Rating:     NONE
Running time:    110 mins.

Viewed at The ImaginAsian Theater
in HULA GIRLS (Hula gâru)
© Cine Qua Non 2006, in association with HAPPINET and S•D•P