POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, February 19, 2012 Share
With the first anniversary of the Touhoku earthquake and tsunami coming soon, I thought about a movie that showcases the true Japanese spirit when faced with enormous odds and that is what came to mind after watching Hula Girls. Based on the title, I imagined that Hula Girls would be a quirky comedy with cute girls and shallow romance and nothing to it. I was wrong. Hula Girls tells the story of Japanese miners who work in the small community, Iwaki. The men and women work grueling jobs in the mines. If you are under 18, you either go to school or your parents will force you to work in the mines. There is no room for slackers.
Due to economic hardships, the mining workers face unemployment. If that should happen then the entire community will be wiped out. The mining company understands this and offers an unusual solution, hula dancing. So begins the Joban Hawaiian Center in Iwaki. Ads are visible all over town and two schoolgirls, Sanae and Kimiko are the first two eager to learn something to save their town. Their instructor is a former Tokyo dancer who has drifted from job to job and owes a lot of money to the Yakuza. Ms. Hirayama doesnít believe any of these minerís daughters have what it takes to learn real hula dancing. She tells them not to cry and to tough it up. Kimiko and her mother get into a big fight and she gets slapped by her mother who doesnít believe hula dancing can solve anything. So she runs away to live at the school. No matter how hard the training gets, she canít go back home. Similarly, Ms. Hirayama cannot return to Tokyo because of her debts. She has to teach these girls and they have to learn or everyone is going to fail. Slowly, the girls begin to learn hula. Other girls join. The town people are against the center claiming that their daughters will be reduced to strippers. They just canít see the big picture.
Just as the girls have acquired enough dancing skills to be able to perform, Sanaeís father is fired from his mining job and the whole family must leave to seek out another mining community. Sanae and Kimiko say their goodbyes and Kimiko just canít take it anymore. She has reached the bottom of the barrel and is without hope. This is when Ms. Hirayama must teach her most valuable lesson, the show must go on. Even on the worst day of your life, you have to put on a big smile and go out and entertain your audience. Over time, Kimiko learns how to do this and endure.
Finally the center is ready to take their act out on the road. They are not dancing for personal gain but for the life and death of their city. The first performance is a disaster with the audience yelling and throwing food at the dancers. Despite this, the tour continues. The dancers gain confidence with each performance and slowly a good reputation is earned. This came about because of Ms. Hirayamaís teaching and the hard work of everyone involved. Still the town doesnít believe that mere dancing can help. What will it take to convince everyone? What will it take to survive? I wonít give anyway the ending. You have to see the whole movie to experience and appreciate it.
There is a lot in Hula Girls that speak about the Japanese character. You have to endure no matter how bad things get. You have to survive. When everything is working against you, you still have to try. You wonít get anywhere by giving up. You have to depend on the group you are a part of. Everyone must work extremely hard to be successful. You have to honor your teacher no matter how bad you are scolded. These are good lessons for leaving in Iwaki and the entire world.
In a time when old time film critics say that Japanese movies have nothing to offer because the golden age of Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi are long gone, are missing the point. This 2007 movie won five majors awards in Japan, including best picture, director, screenplay, and best supporting actress. It shows Fukushima before the nuclear reactor problem. It shows the beauty of Ibaraki. Hula Girls is a bitter sweet drama that pulls at the heart strings and fills the viewer with joy. The kind of movie that you will walk away with something more than you had before you saw it.
"The Asian Aperture" is ©2012 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Crazed Fanboy are ©2012 by Nolan B. Canova and Terence Nuzum.
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