Written & directed by Masayuki Suo

Starring Koji Yakusyo, Tamiyo Musakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Wantanabe, Akira Emoto & Yu Tokui.


To cramp already stiff ballroom dancing sequences into a square TV screen will deplete what little potency they have. If you must rent it (and I admit most folks liked it a lot more than I did), try to find this one in wide screen to maximize the attepmted grandeur of these scenes.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 6/1/99

"Shall We Dance"

Opened: July 18, 1997 | Rated: PG

The rigors of a 9-to-5 life and traditional Japanese formality test an obstinate businessman when he discovers the guilty pleasure of ballroom dancing in "Shall We Dance." An empathy story, it sets out to release pent-up joy, but in fact suffers from the same emotional formality it intends to pass judgment on.

Shohei (Koji Takusyo) goes through the paces every dreary weekday, his only bright spot being a sad young woman he sees staring out a window each night on his train ride home.

He his fascination with her leads him to miss the train one night and take a class at the dance studio where she teaches, thereby discovering a hidden talent and a new passion.

It is a kind of coming-out-of-the-closet movie for dance fanatics, as Shohei gets caught up in his habit but hides it from his family and friends out of some kind of unjustified shame.

The movie is meant to explore the stiff traditional roles of Japanese society and offer an argument for freely expressed passion, but it falls short, ironically, because of repressive camera work and some unrehearsed, rather clumsy acting.

For a movie about dance, about movement, "Shall We Dance" sits insistently still. Especially in the second half of the film when, on the advise of his tutor, Shohei sneaks off on a "business trip" to attend a ballroom dancing competition.

These scenes, 10 minutes of couples throwing all their energy, all their heart into their dancing, are nonetheless stilted. One would expect the direction and camera movements to become more fluid as Shohei dancing becomes more confident, but the film never attempts to capture the dynamic verve of bodies in motion. Despite paying homage to "The King and I" in many scenes, "Shall We Dance" is that film's antithesis in energy.

Shohei's discomfort penetrates the audience, but his happiness when dancing and his love for his family stay flat on the screen.

The film is pregnant with potential, so it's sad to note that the spark the movie needed is found only in stock footage of a dance competition that accompanies the closing credits. In this footage the camera has life. It spins and dips with the dancers, and ironically demonstrates everything the narrative is lacking.

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