By Brian Sherrill, Staff Writer
Dr. Laura Miller, Eiichi Shibusawa- Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies and professor of anthropology, hosted the Japan Drama Night showing of “Hula Girls” on September 28 in 331 Social Sciences & Business Building (SSB). “Hula Girls,” directed by Lee Sang-il, is based off the formation of the Joban Hawaiian Center. It is a “very cute, and very true story,” said Miller. The film was nominated for 12 awards at the Japan Academy Awards in 2007.
“Hula Girls” is a dramatic and inspirational movie about Iwaki, a cold, dying coal mining slum-town in northern Japan. The town’s mine is closing down along with the hopes of its families’ futures. However, the mining company decides to attempt to revitalize Iwaki with its new project, the Joban Hawaiian Center, meant to bring in thousands of tourists.
“By and for the coal miners” is the motto the project announces. The project and its hired teacher from Tokyo, Madoka Hirayama (Yasuko Matsuyuki), are both met with hostility from the laid off fathers, although the daughters are sparked with enthusiasm, seeing their ticket out of Iwaki.
Hirayama teaches these girls how to dance, how to be dancers, and how to “be something.” These coal miners’ daughters’ determination becomes inspirational. Their stakes are high but they prove themselves in the end after months of hard work touring surrounding rural areas to promote the center’s grand opening, where they finally dance in front of a captivated audience of thousands. The Center, now known as Spa Resort Hawaiians, became one of Japan’s most popular theme parks.
Many of the students who came to see the film were Japanese Studies majors. After it ended, the students began chiming in, saying the movie was a “tearjerker” and “hilarious.” Miller said, “I cried a bit,” and many of the students agreed that they did the same.
One of the students, Rana Jchaj, freshman, mathematics, came for the free pizza and the extra credit but left with something more. Jchaj said, “It was such a rich and insightful movie full of Japanese culture. It was so powerful. Seeing this movie makes you want to go to Japan and visit the Center.”
Dr. Miller hosts these kind of Japanese culture events every semester, bringing in guest speakers and showing movies. The next event is “The Children of the Gutenberg Revolution: Japanese Typewriters and the Extension of Print as a Universal Visual Language” with guest speaker Raja Adal from the University of Pittsburgh. The event takes place October 5 at 3 p.m. in 331 SSB.