100 Best Contemporary Japanese Movies – [4] Hula Girls – Yu Aoi dances her way into our hearts!

Hula Girls (Hula garu) launched the career of Yu Aoi, one of Japan’s best young actresses. With her good looks, brilliant acting and her amazing dance moves, Aoi clearly establishes herself as a dramatic actress, and Hula Girls gave her the opportunity to make a mark in the Japanese movie scene.

Yasuko Matsuyuki also performed one of her best roles as Aoi’s dance teacher and has won acting awards for this movie.

What the Movie is all about: As the Korean War draws to a close and the pressing demand for copious amounts of coal takes a sudden plunge, the remote Japanese mining town of Joban attempts to compensate for the devastating economic blow by transforming itself into a lavish Hawaiian retreat in an affectionate comedy inspired by real events and directed by Lee Sang-il. The year s 1965 and the changes that have swept through the outside world are finally reaching Joban. As the mineworkers are laid off, and the women of the town take it upon themselves to gently nudge their once-prosperous community from the brink of economic collapse, the ancient Hawaiian art of the hula dance seems to offer the ideal means of doing so. Though highly fashionable Tokyo urbanite Madoka Hirayama (Yasuko Matsuyuki) at first seems terribly out of place when she arrives in Joban to teach local ladies how to saw their hips with authentic grace, her noble efforts soon instill her students with a newfound sense of confidence in both themselves and their struggling community. [ Narrative by Jason Buchanan ]

Why you should watch this movie: Both critics and moviegoers will agree that this type of film is already well-known, a group of misfits trying to prove their worth in society by doing something unique and even surprising.

But what makes this movie special is the emotional punch that is evident throughout the film. Yu Aoi, Yasuko Matsuyuki, and Sumiko Fuji represent three different women with their set of values and beliefs, and their clashes make it more than worthwhile.

Featured Critique: Jeff Shanon at Seattle Times praised the film –

An irresistible Japanese import, “Hula Girls” is a crowd-pleaser so comfortable with its own clichés that it goes down smoother than a mai tai on Maui. Though based on fact, it’s a virtual compendium of mainstream hits like “Flashdance,” “Footloose” and “The Full Monty,” with a nod to the similarly appealing Japanese comedy “Shall We Dance.” Like those films, this one works like a charm. The formula’s been reliable ever since Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland vowed to “put on a show” in their golden-age musicals. It works just as well in 1965 Japan, where a spirited teenager named Kimiko (Yu Aoi) gets the notion of becoming a hula dancer in Joban, the depressed coal-mining town where she lives with her disciplinarian parents. With the coal industry in decline, town leaders hope to commercialize Polynesian culture by opening a grand, Hawaiian-themed resort and hiring local girls as hula dancers who will tour Japan to promote Joban’s revitalized appeal. [ read more ]

Urban Cinefile mentioned the acting:

Standouts are the two women at the center of the story; the imported dance teacher (Yasuko Matsuyuki) who has to overcome prejudice and resentment, and the teenager who becomes the lead dancer, Kimiko (Yu Aoi) despite her mother’s strenuous objections. They provide plenty of warmth and tears, while other characters, including one of the men who learns to love palm trees, provide both comedy and conflict.

It’s not groundbreaking, but Hula Girls is engaging and entertaining. [ read more ]

You may argue that Yu Aoi also did great acting in Hana and Alice and I would agree with you, so stay tuned for that movie as well!


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