Change a depressing, failing, industrial, Thatcherized city in the English midlands to a failing, depressing coal mine in a cold part of Japan. Change overalls to grass skirts. Change striptease to hula dancing. Change out-of-work factory men to out-of-work coal miner’s daughters. Finished? What you’ve done is change The Full Monty to Hula Girls. Nothing else is really needed but English subtitles, if you don’t understand Japanese. It also has things in common with a movie we liked even more than The Full Monty, which is Brassed Off. A bit of Calendar Girls in there, too. In fact, you’ve seen this movie many times, if you go to the movies at all. The New York Times reviewer said this: “You’ve seen this film many times. It always works.” Well, yes, but sometimes it works better than others. It’s impossible to dislike this little bauble, for me, at least, but it could have used another edit. The sentimental scenes drag on too long, and I always resent that, the director trying to wring one last tear from me, to the point that the tears just don’t come. I liked these shy and (eventually) spunky girls, and I liked their washed-up dance teacher who (what else?) redeemed herself by bringing hope to these girls and their village. And I’d have liked them more if the pace had been a little sharper.
I was dubious about the story. Sure, you want it to be a cock-eyed plan, and this is one of the more cockier-eyed. It’s 1965, oil is replacing coal, the mine is going to close. The idea is to build an indoor Hawaiian resort heated by the thermal springs in the area, to give jobs to the miners. To do this, the girls have to learn to shake their booties. Shaking one’s booty just ain’t a very Japanese thing to do. They are hopeless … and yet, of course, by the last reel you’d think they were born in grass skirts. They get down with it, haole! Seemed unlikely to me. However, I learned that this was in fact based on a true story, and that none of the actresses in this movie were dancers, and that they spent three months learning how to dance … so if these girls could do it, why not the village girls?