Hula Girls

Original Title: フラガール
Release date: September 23, 2006
Director: Sang-il Lee
Screenplay by: Sang-il Lee, Daisuke Habara
Cast: Yu Aoi, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Etsushi Toyokawa, Shizuyo Yamasaki, Sumiko Fuji, Ittoku Kishibe, Shoko Ikezu

I wondered why Amy decided to get me to write a review for Hula Girls — other than Yu Aoi being her favorite actress/idol of the moment — and then it hit me.

Hula Girls takes place and was shot in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, affected by the earthquake and the whole nuclear plant business. So… there was a reason other than crowd-pleasing.

The film, set in the 1960s, follows a group of girls that set out to learn to hula dance in order to save their town from the decline of the coal mining industry, for which Iwaki was known for — besides their Onsen (hot springs). The heads of families are losing their jobs, and tensions arise from the fact that they want to open a Hawaiian center in a really cold city.

Enter Hirayama-sensei (Matsuyuki), a hula dancer with money trouble that ends up in the faraway city to teach town girls how to dance. Underdog story everywhere you’re smelling from. Besides the fact that Hula Girls is based on actual town girls who learned to hula dance to save a town, the film is the good type of melodrama.

Yu Aoi in the role of Kimiko, playing lead and supporting, doesn’t show much except for a whole LOT of charisma, which worked a lot for the film’s popularity in Japan’s box office numbers, as well as the Japanese Academy Awards — the film was also Japan’s official selection for the Academy Award that year.

There are two important things to note in the film. First, Iwaki dialect — which the actresses had to learn — is a character in the film, as it was highlighted by having the teacher speaking in standard Japanese, slowly letting her ease into the dialect once she integrates herself with the town’s people and the girls. Two, the film shows the range of what Japanese people can be — harsh at times, but willing to help each other in a time of need.

All in all, hardcore film lovers will find little to enjoy in a film like Hula Girls. For the rest of us who like melodramas about little people doing grand things — that happened in real life — Hula Girls will leave you with a smile, and loads of booty-shaking.

Rating: ★★★¾☆ 

If you want to watch Hula Girls, NEW PEOPLE and Viz Cinema are showing the film to raise funds. You can get more information on the date and where to get tickets on

Part of the Japanese Film Blogathon to Raise Funds for Earthquake and Tsunami Relief: Cinema FanaticJapanCinema

Take a moment to make a donation.

Take also a look at what you can do with Japan Society.


Ghost Writer

Here. There. Everywhere. Punished soul that usually watches what nobody wants, but sometimes gets lucky.

4 Responses

  1. amy says:

    Yes, this is my shame. Everyone knows me know as the one with Yu Aoi on her website. Keep it up, you guys. She probably already thinks this is all creepy.

    Anyway, you need to be a grumpy douche (or a bitter witch) to not at least feel a bit of the sweetness in this movie. Like when they begin learning how to dance… or when Yu Aoi drinks the whole glass of sake in one go with his older bro (Toyokawa).

    And the cheesy “to you my sweetheart” dance thing. LOL It’s high quality chick flick xD

  1. March 17, 2011

    […] Ozu’s Late Spring Bookshop @Livejournal takes a look at Images of Women in Japanese Films Ghost Writer at YAM Mag reviews 2006′s Hula Girls MoviesInFrames – Rashōmon, 1950 (dir. Akira […]

  2. March 17, 2011

    […] Yam Magazine reviews Sang-il Lee’s フラガール (Hula Girls) […]

  3. April 17, 2014

    […] Lee is an easy-to-hate director, having directed the saccharine Hula Girls, Lee is neither as stylish as Tetsuya Nakashima (Confessions), nor unbelievably cool like Takashi […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.