Shall We Dance? (1996) / Comedy-Drama
aka Shall We Dansu?

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for mild language (I'd rate it PG)
Running Time: 118 min. (Japanese release runs 136 min.)

Cast: Koji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Watanabe, Yu Tokui, Hiromasa Taguchi, Reiko Kusamara, Hideko Hara
Director: Masayuki Suo
Screenplay: Masayuki Suo
Review published October 17, 2004

Shall we dance JapaneseOverwhelmingly charming, Shall We Dance? is about as good a film as one could expect about learning how to dance.  What it means to the normally reserved Japan is complete freedom and escapism, doing something that many in the culture look down upon as foolish and racy -- there's a physical intimacy involved in the act, and sometimes with a stranger.  Using this nuance to his asset, writer-director Masayuki Suo constructs a serio-comic story that is every bit as subtle as the movements of the dances contained within it, and just viewing the best of the dancers, it's a joy to see the events play out with perfection.

Shohei Suguyama is a 40-something businessman with an adoring wife, a sweetheart of a daughter, and the house he always dreamed of buying.  Yet, there's something missing.  Every day he gazes longingly through the window of a small dance studio and sees the graceful young dancer in there seemingly looking right back at him, and he is affected.  After some time, the curiosity gets the better of him, and he enrolls for dance lessons, although he is starting as a complete novice.  it is there that he meets Mai, the girl in the window, but she lets it be known early on that she does not get involved with the students.  Meanwhile, Suguyama's clueless wife fears that these evenings he spends out, and the strange behavior he has been exhibiting, might mean that he is having an affair.  She can take the mystery no longer, and hires a private investigator to see just what the husband is up to.

Shall We Dance? is a comedy that's high on sentiment, strengthened by its characters and how they interact with one another, while trying so very hard not to step on each other's toes -- figuratively and literally.  Like any film which features ballroom dancing, there's an elegance to the dance scenes that feels like we're watching an art form in motion, but the comic relief provided keeps the overall effect of the film light without ever seeming too stuffy to enjoy.

One of the characters in the film stated that she fell in love with dancing the moment she saw Yul Brenner in The King and I (a song from which the movie derives its title), and I would guess that Suo's rich study in the art of dance will be the inspiration for countless more.  A thoroughly enjoyable film on every level, and one of the best films of 1996.

-- Remade by Hollywood with Shall We Dance? (2004)

Qwipster's rating:

©2004 Vince Leo