Hula Girls


Inspired by the real-life transformation of a northern Japanese coal-mining town during the mid ’60s, Hula Girls begins as a globalized move toward petroleum is about to put 2,000 Iwaki miners out of work. Sadly, a globalized move toward America-friendly cinema serves as the foundation for co-writer/director Lee Sang-il’s innocuous dramedy, an underdog uplifter that somehow won Japan’s Academy Awards for best picture, director, and screenplay by rehashing The Full Monty and Dirty Dancing. Teen gal pals Kimiko (Yu Aoi) and Sanae (Eri Tokunaga) are ready to get the hell out of their dead-end town, which is attempting an economic makeover by repurposing the mine and its surplus of hot springs as a Hawaiian-themed tourist trap. The clumsy girls immediately sign up with other requisite misfits for the hula troupe, and the rest is like dominoes: training montages, disapproving parents, girl-power platitudes, anti-Hawaiian backlash, teary good-byes, the death of a miner, the show must go on, parents come around, packed houses, and an adorable onstage finale! It’s all warm, well-shot, instantly forgettable, and familiar to a fault. When Sanae exclaims this to be “the best time of my life,” she might as well have said, “Nobody puts Kimiko in the corner.”