This is a story about change. Hula Girls, based on true events, takes place in a small Japanese coal mining town in the late 60s, where its town folks find that with the shifting reliance on oil from coal, the survival of their town is at stake when a major company decides to retrench and cut its headcount.
In attempts to makeover their economy (ain't that familiar), the sleepy town has decided to come up with a "Hawaii Center", a resort like facility where the warm atmosphere of Hawaii will be recreated in their cold/coal environment. It's a drastic change from blue collar to the service industry, and with the young girls being roped in to be dance performers, the traditionalists are up in arms, against the entire project. Skimpy outfits and gyrating moves don't make it easy, and neither does an outsider being roped in to teach the girls a new skill, turn out popular too.
Hula Girls, winner of many awards in the 2006 Japanese equivalent of the Oscars, and also the Japanese submission to the 2007 Oscar's Best Foreign Language film, actually seemed a little too familiar in its narrative style, bringing to mind movies such as Waterboys, Swing Girls, Linda Linda Linda, and the more obvious reference and similarity, will be that of My Mother is a Belly Dancer, well, for most of the first half anyway. But perhaps with this familiarity, it took less time for the audience to identify with it, and it set on its focus to endear the key characters to the audience.
As mentioned, it's about change, set against the backdrop of changing industries, attitudes, and skills. It's a heartwarming story no less, about the strength of sisterhood, where unity sees them battling challenges ahead, much against all odds, especially when adversity comes from within. It's not all serious as it sounds, as there are ample comedy infused, especially with its outcast characters such as the nerdy mom and the plus sized tomboy, and their initial attempts at performance during road trips advertising their new attraction.
Like movies in the similar genre, it doesn't take long to identify the leader of the pack, in Kimiko (Yu Aoi), as she becomes the protege of the teacher Mrs Hirayama (Yasuko Matsuyuki), given the thankless task of whipping the girls into shape. Yu Aoi is no doubt the star of the movie, with her good looks and time dedicated for her to show what it takes. And expect a number of sniffles as the filmmakers weaved in classical dramatic moments primarily aimed at activating those tear ducts.
At its heart, it's a movie on the triumph of the human spirit against adversity, and of friendship. It's not without its flaws, like when certain transitions seemed to suffer from lack of time devoted to provide more depth, but when the formula comes to the end, with its rousing, highly anticipated finale showed in its entirety and in full regalia, you'll no doubt be giving full of applause for its showmanship.
Definitely going into my books as a contender for the best movies of the year. Highly recommended, despite its slow start.