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Hula Girls
Hula Girls
Actors: Yű Aoi, Etsushi Toyokawa, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Sumiko Fuji, Ittoku Kishibe
Director: Lee Sang-il
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Educational, Animation
NR     2007     3hr 20min

2-disc set loaded with special features! — Includes: — * The Making of Hula Girls — * How To Be a Hula Girl — * Hula Girls: The Real Story — * An Interview with Jake Shimabukuro (music) — * Original Japanese Trailers — Winner of ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Yű Aoi, Etsushi Toyokawa, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Sumiko Fuji, Ittoku Kishibe
Director: Lee Sang-il
Creators: Hideo Yamamoto, Jake Shimabukuro, Tsuyoshi Imai
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Educational, Animation
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Educational, Animation
Studio: VIZ Pictures, Inc.
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
DVD Release Date: 11/06/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 3hr 20min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 15
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Feel Good Movie with Heart & Soul
Ping Lim | Christchurch | 10/05/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"For those that have watched the Full Monty, Brassed off, you have a good idea of what to expect. Yes, the story might be cliche but it's done very effectively in this offering. Yet again, this is based upon a true story in a rural township in Japan in the mid-60s when the mining town is facing the dire situation of extinction as the main industry of mining coal is coming to an end. A scheme is suggested to revive employment there by having a purpose built bath resort with a Hawaiian theme. To do that, it needs hula girls. In the beginning, recruiting the dancers is a tall order as Japan during that time is still conservative and baring too much flesh is a definite no-no. However, there is a stubborn girl who steadfastly refuses to give up even though she's being excommunicated from her mother who happens to be a mining comittee member anti progressive movement. However, she has a loving and supportive elderly brother who encourages her to follow her dream. She would subsequently become the lead dancer. Normally, a Hollywood offering would concentrate in training those misfits into successful people and we would sit through the routine of artificial gags to make us laugh. For this instance, there is actually character development through the dancing teacher who is recruited from Tokyo. She has a ferocious temper and running away from her demon for not being able to hit the big time in Tokyo. As time progresses, as she sees commitment in eyes of those miners' daughters, she suddenly discovers herself by having a goal to turn the fate of the dying town around. Hula Girls is a surprisingly touching movie and I'm deeply moved by it. It's really amazing to read the end credit to say that Hula Girls are still running strong today and that the same teacher is still doing her thing at that resort now. Highly recommended for a shot in the arm to follow our dreams."
Bright flowers blossoming from dark coal mines
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 01/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Probably the biggest surprise of "Hula Girls", and what gives it such impact, is how it comes out of left field with its depth and emotion. What appears to be a by-the-numbers feel good movie, about a bunch of fish-out-of-water types who aspire to something more, to the tune of "Shall We Dance?" or "The Full Monty", ends up being a brutal and violent tale, filled with prejudice and entrenched small town thinking. This is "Billy Elliot". This is "Coal Miner's Daughter".

Life is hard for coal miners, and during the mid-60s when demand for coal dropped off and the mines started closing, it became harsher still. One of the lofty dreams of Japan at the time was the concept of life-time employment, where a company was your family and they looked after their employees faithfully. Many such projects as the Joban Hawaiian Center were started at that time, attempting to replace vanishing industries with tourism and supplying new employment for company workers. It was an admirable goal, rather than just discarding unneeded laborers to fend for themselves. Most of the time it ended in failure, and the various "Canada Lands" and "Holland Centers" that populated the Japanese countryside are now all barren ruins. The Hawaiian resorts still stands though, and the Hula Girls are still dancing.

Very loosely based on this true story, director Sang-il Lee artfully mixed the dull colors of the mining world with the bright promise of a better future in the flashing colors of Hawaii. Korean-Japanese, Lee knows something about the harshness of attempting to bring new thoughts to a closed community, as he has shown in his first film "Chong". He also understands the freedom and resilience of youth, having adapted Ryu Murakami's youth-rebellion novel "69". All of the actors shine as well, especially Yu Aoi as the lead dancer Kumiko.

Some of the appeal of "Hula Girls" will probably be lost on Western audiences, especially the performance of Shizuyo Yamazaki as the giant girl Sayuri. Yamazaki is a famous comedian in Japan, known for her gruff manner and wearing guy's clothes, so seeing her dance around in a hula skirt is especially charming. She also puts enormous depth into her character, something I didn't think she was capable of as an actress, and was quite moved by."
Shake that thing
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 12/27/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"If one has an interest in 1960s Japanese film one might be familiar with the documentaries of Ogawa Shinsuke whose main themes centered on those at the margins of Japanese society: fishermen, dirt farmers, and students from blue collar families who were unable to receive the proper help to finish their coursework. Ogawa's films along with the films of Imamura Shohei, Oshima Nagisa, and others attempted to bring attention to those downtrodden by Japan's economic miracle. However, as time passed and Japanese film lost a bit of its social critical air, films like those of the aforementioned directors ceased to be.

Of recent, films that contain a bit of social critique while aiming for mainstream appeal have been on the rise such as/ Sai Yoichi's Where is the Moon? (1993) and Blood and Bones (2004) and Yukisada Isao's Go 2001) tackle the Korean issue in Japan. In recent years the resident Korean director Lee Sang-il has made some waves with his films 69 (2004) and Scrap Heaven (2005), however, it is his 2006 film Hula Girls that has truly put him on the map.

Set in the poor, northern mining town of Iwaki during the mid-1960s, Hula Girls begins as a tale of desperation. With coal becoming less important as a source of energy, miners are losing their jobs quickly and within the small town it is suspected that 2000 workers will soon lose their jobs. However, there might be a way to save some jobs. One of the banes of the miners is a hot spring that continuously pumps water into the mines. However, the Joban Hawaiian group wants to build a resort in the town. Besides the fact that a number of residents believe that the group is crazy trying to bring Hawaii to the cold confines of Iwaki, the resort will only supply some 500 jobs. However, the idea of the resort sets of a spark within the heart of a young girl named Kimura Sanae who soon makes it her goal to be a pro hula dancer. Dragging her friend Kimiko along, played by the very talented Aoi Yu, Sanae is enraptured by the possibility of a different future. However, the conservative women of the town reject the idea. However, there is some excitement because a former professional dancer from Tokyo is coming to the bumpkin town to teach the participants how to hula, but when a drunk, disinterested Hirayama Madoka arrives there seems to be little hope getting the dancing off the ground. However, two new members join Sanae and Kimiko, a giantess named Sayuri and a housewife named Hatsuko. Will this small group become professional hula dancers? Will they win the support of their families? Who knows, but the duration of the trip to find out is certainly a fun one.

When I first heard of Hula Girls I thought it was it was going to be similar to Yaguchi Shinobu's film Swing Girls which was another film about a group of girls striving to improve themselves through a practiced skill, however Hula Girls has quite a serious edge as well. There is a surprising amount of violence in the film, however, this follows the example of the films of Sai Yoichi and Yukisada Isao listed above. These scenes jolt the viewer out of a sense that this film will just be another happy go lucky fluff film and the alternating scenes of drama and comedy builds up to a very satisfying ending. The film is well worth a look for those interested in comedic Japanese films that have more of an edge."
Gosh-Darned, Bang-Up, Good Film, Simply Wonderful
Ophella Paige | Reno, Nevada | 12/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Iwaki is on the cold, northern island of Honshu and it was a coal mining town, but in the sixties oil was replacing coal as the primary energy source and the town faced the closure of its mines. Yutaka Nakamura, president of the Joban Kosan Company at the time wanted to protect his employees, so he came up with the idea of turning the town into a resort. And that's where this excellent film starts.

The company wants to open a Hawaiian Center and they want it to be staffed by the miners and they especially want all the Hula dancers to be coal miners daughters. However, the miners have other ideas. They believe in the old ways, so when Madoka Hirayama comes to town with a chip on her shoulder to teach the girls the hula, their hackles are raised. Hirayama at first doesn't want to be there, but she owes some nefarious people some money and has no choice.

The girls are at first only four, but as the film moves on others join till Hirayama has a whole troop to teach and teach them she does, however they stumble mightily along the way and you'll find yourself shedding a tear or two as they do. And you'll cheer the ending of this very good, feel good film.

Yu Aoi who plays Kimiko gives an outstanding performance and her dance scene at the end gave me chills. I liked how her character observed Hiryama, played by Yasuko Matsuki, dance toward the beginning of the film, then duplicated the dance for her mother later on.

The ending was predictable, but so what. Lee Sang-il has made a truly outstanding film and it's one I'll be watching over and over. Who knows, maybe if I watch it enough the Japanese will rub off, because I'd surly love to be able to get into these characters in their own language. I can't say it enough, this is a wonderful, gosh-darned, bang-up good film."