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With: Koji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Watanabe, Akira Emoto, Yu Tokui, Hiromasa Taguchi, Reiko Kusamura
Written by: Masayuki Suo
Directed by: Masayuki Suo
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mild language
Running Time: 118
Date: 01/27/1996

Shall We Dance? (1997)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Tango'ed Web We Weave

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shall We Dance? begins with a narrator taking the time to explain to us that the Japanese have a problem with dancing. It is viewed as a sleazy profession; touching others in a sexual manner in public and dancing with someone other than your wife is considered scandalous. Those who dance do so in secret.

This sequence shows that the distributor, Miramax, intended Shall We Dance? for a worldwide market, and not just a Japanese one. I think Miramax plans to market this film just like it did Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino. Shall We Dance? will be (and deserves to be) a long-running word of mouth hit. All the same, the move seems calculated.

Shall We Dance? has the same feel as those other imported films. It's easy to watch, easy to like, and not very threatening or challenging. On the other hand, it's a dream of a movie; graceful, elegant, and magical.

It's a simple story of Mr. Sugiyama, (played wonderfully by Koji Yakusho) a Japanese accountant who takes a long train ride home every night and gazes longingly out the train window as he passes by a dance studio, where he can see a beautiful dance instructor. He is happy with his wife and daughter and his new house, but feels that something is missing. One night he gets off the train and enters the studio. He signs up for lessons to meet the lovely and mysterious creature, Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari), but soon realizes that it is the dancing itself that is revitalizing his life.

The movie has lots of "typed" characters, (the short guy, the fat guy, the older dance instructor), but we grow to like all of them as their lives are changed by Mr. Sugiyama. Each of them is concerned with looks, shields, and style, even Mai. But, as they witness Mr. Sugiyama's transformation, each grows to appreciate and love dance as more than just a succession of steps, or looking beautiful to others.

Written and directed by Masayuki Suo, the movie beautifully conveys that love to the audience. The dancing is flawlessly photographed, the poetry and the fluidity wonderfully captured. I couldn't help thinking of Astaire and Rogers from time to time. Although Shall We Dance? is not strictly a musical, it is certainly a celebration of movement, music, and freedom. It's a treat.

(This review was originally published in SF MODA magazine.)

DVD Details: Miramax has finally chosen to release this original film on DVD, but they've done it in a way to help sell the inferior remake. The only real extra on this disc is a "preview" of the remake, and even the description on the back sleeve references Ricard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Lopez by name. Years from now, movie fans will still have this one in their libraries, unfortunately tarnished with memories of the remake.

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