Loaded with underdog heroics and bursting with youthful enthusiasm, “Hula Girls” may be utterly predictable but it sure is a lot of fun. Fact-based tale of girls forming a hula troupe in a dying mining town in mid-’60s Japan has danced its way to beefy B.O. since opening domestically on Sept. 23, and stands a chance of shaking its skirts into foreign markets. Fests and specialty broadcasters will want to snap up this crowd-pleaser.
Fourth feature by Japan-based ethnic Korean director Lee Sang-il finds him dealing with lighter subject matter, and with a much better touch, than on previous effort, hostage drama “Scrap Metal” (2005).
“Hula” is told through the eyes of Kimiko Tanikawa (Yu Aoi), a spirited teenager living in the coal mining community of Joban, in the country’s chilly northeast.
Dreaming of a life more interesting, Kimiko’s prayers seem to be answered when the local mining company announces plans to construct a Hawaii-themed tourist attraction. The plan seems ludicrous to the locals, and ridicule turns to bitterness when the company lays off half its workforce, citing a slump in demand.
Hula dancers are required for the floor show, and first in line is Kimiko. Naturally the hopefuls prove hopeless — before famous dancer Ms. Madoka (Yasuko Matsuyuki) is drafted to whip the line into shape.
Although there’s not a single real surprise right up to the moment when the girls make their triumphant debut, a gallery of well-drawn characters and keen observations of small-town life make the time pass pleasantly.
Well-cast pic features perky perfs by young cast members and a nice role for Matsuyuki as the dancer who overcomes initial aloofness and embraces job.
Tech package is pro in all departments.