Japanese movie review: Hula Girls (フラガール)

By | January 20, 2015

Me and my wife decided to buy this movie’s DVD from Amazon since it had quite good reviews and we were glad we did.

This film is partially based on real events, where several girls from a small mining town, Iwaki (Fukushima prefecture) began learning hula dancing after discovering a spa resort (Joban Hawaiian Center) is going to be erected in their town. At the time (around 1965), much of the towns workers who made a living working in coal mines were starting to loose their jobs as oil’s popularity increased in Japan, and the conflict between the old and the new ways of making a living is a major theme of this movie.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I’ll just say rather than the events themselves it was the fact that some of the movie’s events and characters were based in reality that made the movie interesting and enjoyable to watch. The cast was also exceptional, with two actors that I was familiar with (Yu Aoi and Etushi Toyokawa) giving great performances. In particular, the scenes where Yu was dancing by herself in the studio were very memorable, and for any fan of hers this is a must see movie. Yasuko Matsuyuki, who plays the dance teacher, is also a famous actor I believe, though I hadn’t seen her before.

Some of the movie’s soundtrack had songs from ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, but it really didn’t stand out as anything special to me, simply filling the silence with a reasonably appropriate atmosphere.

Linguistically, this movie was different because it was set in Fukushima prefecture, and most of the characters (except Yasuko’s) spoke in one of Japan’s North-Eastern dialects (東北弁). Although I had a little experience with this dialect, it was very hard for me to follow what was being said and I highly recommend using English subtitles unless you want to be crazy like me and attempt it without them (or you happen to be a native Japanese speaker). Two things you can listen for are the somewhat frequent sentence ender “べ〜”, which can be used to express the speakers will or guess, and also the use of “おれ” by one or more female characters (usually reserved for male characters in Tokyo dialect). A word of caution – I believe many of the actors are not from Fukushima originally, and their intonation may not be accurate so I wouldn’t recommend using them as models if you are trying to learn Fukushima intonation.

If you’re into Japan’s culture, history, actors, or language, I highly recommend watching this, but if not then you probably wouldn’t miss too much by skipping it.








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One thought on “Japanese movie review: Hula Girls (フラガール)

  1. Dan Miskelly

    I was stationed at Misawa AFB from 1966 to 1970. I forget how I first found out about the Joban Hawaiian Center, but I am “a creature of habit” and once I found the place often went there alone, with friends or on work group trips. I went there so often that most of the staff there knew me very well; I often bought the dancers soft drinks between performances (the dancers were all high school girls aged 16 to 18). Once a male-female duet team asked me to help them with the pronunciation of the words to “The Hawaiian Wedding Song”.

    I lived in Japan teaching English conversation for 30 years, as already mentioned, and was nowhere near fluent in Japanese, but I could handle most daily non-technical conversations fairly well. Japan has so many different dialects, I only spoke “standard Japanese”. I probably understood about 70% to 80% of the dialog in the movie, even the “bei” and “ore”, but of course missed a fair amount because of the Fukushima dialect. Still, I watch this movie at least once a month because it brings back so many fond memories.


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