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In 1965 the planned closing of a coal mine in Iwaki (northeastern Japan) will put 2,000 people out of work with devastating effects on the community. The mining company plans to build the Hawaiian Center to promote tourism, but the idea meets with resistance by the community's union families who boycott the effort. However, a few of the young women in Joban see the call for dancers to possibly provide a more promising future. Norio Yoshimoto is put in charge of organizing the center, with Madoka Hirayama, a professional dancer fleeing creditors in Tokyo hired to train the dancers. Kimiko, her friend Sanae, and Sayuri are amongst the handful first showing up for lessons but soon others join them. When Kimiko's mother, Chiyo, discovers that she has skipped school classes to learn dancing the two argue and Kimiko leaves home. Her brother Yojiro, one of the newly out of work miners, comes to be supportive of her dancing as he becomes protective of Madoka. The girls start to tour ... Written by
Aloha meets Konnichiwa with Struggle, Understanding, Embrace
I saw 'Hula Girl' at the Toronto International Film Festival with the affable director Lee Sang-Il present.
This movie, based on the true story of how a dying coal mining town attempts the preposterous idea of building a taste of Hawaii in the cold town through dancing girls, a huge palm-tree filled centre and an 'outsider' dance teacher from Tokyo.
Almost immediately, you know that this movie will be about the town's struggle to survive pitting the traditional, town-encrusted family against those supporting a potential new way of life. I had thoughts of the Japanese version of 'Shall We Dance' ringing through my mind, but perhaps the dancing is the furthest you can compare between the movies. The emotional depth of the movie was somewhat unexpected...sadness, some corniness, some laughter. Yet the movie worked where it needed to, and kept moving at the right pace leaving me at the end feeling like I had seen everything that had happened. Except that at the end, I had been so entranced with the characters I was wondering how they, themselves turned out.
The movie pulled me in nicely with a strong story that was well developed and a really good watch.
If you're looking for something a little different, and open to learning a little bit about life in a small Japanese town in the 1960s, I think this gives you a good feel for the people, the attitudes, and a change that took grip in a dramatic and light-hearted way.
Kudos to the director and production team!
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