Shall We Dance? (original title: Shall We DANSU?)

Japan - 1996

Movie Review By Alex Lau

"Shall We Dance?" is a charming Japanese film about a man, Sugiyama, who's facing a mid-life crisis. He feels trapped in a world where there's nothing but work, and his commute is so long that he leaves the house before the rest of his family even wakes up. One day on the way home from work, he sees a beautiful young woman looking out of the window of a dance studio, so he decides to take up ballroom dancing.

In Japan, you hardly ever see couples holding hands in public, let alone dancing in front of other people. So ballroom dancing is definitely on the shameful side, and so he doesn't tell his wife about it. Of course, she gets a little curious as to why he's coming home with a smile on his face all of a sudden, and why he's got the smell of perfume on his shirt.

One thing leads to another and... well, let's just say this is a comedy, not a tragedy, and leave it at that. The title comes from the song from "The King and I," because one of the dancing instructors was inspired by it. By the end of the movie, everyone is inspired to dance, even the private detective hired to find out what Sugiyama has been up to.

Written and directed by Masayuki Suo, "Shall We Dance?" was a big box office hit last year in Japan, winning 13 Japanese Academy Awards. The appeal carries over across cultural and language barriers, too, as Sugiyama finds his way out of his workaday rut through -- you guessed it -- dancing. There's a nice sequence to the tune of "Save the Last Dance for Me," where we see Sugiyama's life transformed from an ordinary guy at the office to a dancing fiend.

Sure, some of the humor is a little forced, some of the minor characters are nothing more than archetypes, and a few of the cultural mores don't come across very well. For instance, you may feel like slapping Sugiyama's wife for not confronting him earlier, but then if she did, it wouldn't be a Japanese movie.

As it is, "Shall We Dance?" is a sentimental, sweet, character-driven movie, perfect counter-programming to the big-budget summer blockbusters.

© 1997 Alex Lau Air Date: 6/25/97

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