Hula Girls (Mongrel, 2006) D: Lee Sang-il, w/ Matsuyuki Yasuko, Yu Aoi. Rating: NNN; DVD package: N/A
This picked up four Japanese Academy Awards, including best picture, director and screenplay, plus 19 other Japanese awards, including a quartet of Nikkan Sports Film Awards. That’s not as bizarre as it sounds, because in form at least, Hula Girls resembles the inspirational jock movie.
What makes it different, and better than most of that overworked genre, is that these aren’t junior Olympians going for the gold or trash-talkin’ troubled youths trying to get straight in sunny southern California.
In a remote corner of Japan in 1965, these dirt-poor coal miners’ daughters sign up as performers in the Hawaiian-style tourist centre the mining company builds after closing the mine, earning hostility from the town.
The cast delivers effective, naturalistic performances. Yu Aoi, as the most promising dancer, is so unaffected, she seems like one of those amateurs who come up brilliant in a Mike Leigh movie. In fact, she’s a seasoned pro.
Director Lee Sang-il delivers heartfelt emotion and comedy. His straightforward depiction of the clumsy, body-shy young girls’ struggle to learn a sensuous dance allows us to enjoy their triumph without shoving it down our throats.
Extras Widescreen. Japanese audio. English subtitles.