‘Hula Girls’ Screening to Benefit Tsunami Relief

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SAN FRANCISCO — New People, the nation’s only entertainment complex dedicated to Japanese popular culture, will present a special screening of director Lee Sang-il’s celebrated film “Hula Girls” to raise funds for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief.

“Hula Girls” will screen on Saturday, March 26, at 2, 4:30 and 7 p.m. Suggested donations are $10 or more per person. New People is located in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown at 1746 Post St.

Proceeds from the screenings will be donated to the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, administered by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California and Union Bank in San Francisco’s Japantown. More information on the screenings and the work of this relief organization is available at www.newpeopleworld.com.

“Hula Girls” is set in Fukushima Prefecture, site of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that was heavily damaged during the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The film was Japan’s official entry to the 2007 Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film category and also won four Japanese Academy Awards the same year for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (for Yu Aoi).

“The world was stunned by the damage and tragic loss of life from the recent earthquake and we invite audiences to donate to the recovery efforts and attend the screening of this uplifting film that is set in the area of Japan that was affected by the disaster,” says Seiji Horibuchi, president of New People Inc. “ ‘Hula Girls’ is a moving testament to the indomitable human spirit, and we hope its story inspires audiences to contribute to the ongoing relief efforts that are now under way.”

Based on a true story, the movie is set in 1965, in the desolate and declining mining town of Iwaki, which tries to revive itself by building a Hawaiian-themed resort. The featured attraction is to be a hula show, but in this isolated place far from the tropical bliss of Hawaii, there are no palm trees or hula dancers. In fact, no one knows how to do the dance or even knows what the hula is.

The town leaders invite a dance instructor from Tokyo (played by Yasuko Matsuyuki) to teach the local miners’ daughters how to hula, but conservative townspeople are initially resistant to the provocative dance. The skepticism and conservatism of the locals is gradually overcome as their daughters fall under the spell of their talented and determined teacher.

Once a leading performer, the instructor at first looks down on the coal miners and their amateurish daughters, but the girls’ sincere dedication gradually rekindles a passion in her. Each dealing with their own harsh lives, the local girls find a new lease on life and, for the first time, support in their friendships as they absorb the essence of hula dancing.

The film has been praised as an enchanting story of women who take once-in-a-lifetime chances to escape their monotonous lives, only to become unwitting heroes to their depressed mining town as well as the whole of Japan.

The music is by Hawaii’s own Jake Shimabukuro, who is also raising funds for disaster relief in Japan.

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