Shall We Dance? (Shall We ダンス?) Made in: Japan Language: Japanese Director: Masayuki Suo Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Hideko Hara, Eriko Watanabe, Ayano Nakamura, Hiromasa Taguchi, Naoto Takenaka Year: 1996
Synopsis: Devoted family man Shohei Sugiyama (Kôji Yakusho) has a high-paying (but utterly boring) job in Tokyo. He's bought a nice house, and has a devoted wife, Masako (Hideko Hara), and daughter, Chikage (Ayano Nakamura). Yet, the daily grind of living and paying the mortgage seems to have sapped all the passion out of Sugiyama's existence.
While taking the train on the way home one night, he glances out the window and sees a ballroom dance school near one of the stops. Gazing out the window of the school is Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari), a beautiful dance instructor. Intrigued and possibly infatuated, Sugiyama eventually works up the courage to check the place out.
When he signs up for lessons, he is first taken under the wing of Tamako Tamura (Reiko Kusamura), the dance school's senior instructor. He is also joined by Tokichi Hattori (Yu Tokui), an excitable character who wants to improve his dancing so he can impress his wife, and Masahiro Tanaka (Hiromasa Taguchi), an overweight diabetic motivated to improve his health.
For cultural reasons related to avoiding shame, Sugiyama keeps his new hobby a secret from his wife. As the lessons continue and as he makes progress, Sugiyama finds that his desire to dance outweighs his infatuation with Mai. And things get interesting when he discovers that one of his co-workers, Tomio Aoki (Naoto Takenaka), is a devoted dance fanatic at Mai's school.
Noticing that her husband is coming home late on Wednesdays, has shirts that smell of perfume, and is generally happier, Masako becomes suspicious that Sugiyama is having an affair. As a result, she hires a private investigator to follow him.
Things come to head when Sugiyama is roped into a major amateur competition, and is paired with Toyoko (Eriko Watanabe), a comically overbearing widow who's also one of Mai's more advanced students.
The Good: Shall We Dance? is a harmless, entertaining film with great characters. With the theme of ballroom dance serving only as a backdrop, it cleverly touches upon a variety of real-life issues such as stress, fulfillment, and happiness. And director Masayuki Suo does so with subtlety and humor.
It makes the simple statement about the need to have passions or interests in order to cope with the stress of everyday life. And it also makes the point that outside interests, such as ballroom dance, have tremendous healing potential.
The renowned Kôji Yakusho plays a very realistic protagonist, I'm sure many viewers will claim to know someone like his character, Sugiyama, in real life.
The Bad: Hollywood remade this film in 2004, which was completely unnecessary. American audiences are perfectly capable of understanding the original Shall We Dance?. And furthermore, Kôji Yakusho ends up as a much better dancer than Richard Gere.
Who would like this movie: Fans of foreign films and ballroom dance will definitely like Shall We Dance?. But as I said before, the messages and storyline are accessible to anyone. It's true that it offers a glimpse at Japanese culture, and most viewers here in the US will find that some aspects of it really aren't that different from our own. If you're in the mood for a clean, relaxing, feel-good movie that isn't sappy or pretentious, then Shall We Dance? is for you.