Worth A Look: 6.9%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 6.9%
1 review, 23 user ratings
|Shall We Dance? (1997)
"Shall We Dansu?" is an almost perfect film, and one of the best Japanese movies of recent years. If you want to get a true sense of Japanese society and attitudes, this is a great place to start.Its title is actually "Shall We Dansu?" a bi-lingual play on words directly to the point of the cultural issues at its heart, the collision between Japan and the Western pursuit of ballroom dancing.
"Like Fred and Ginger, this charmer makes it look easy"
As a brief introductory voice-over explains, in buttoned-down Japan ballroom dancing is slightly scandalous, and "is seen with much suspician." (In Japan, by contrast, the film's voice-over intro explained to Japanese audiences that ballroom dancing is considered just an ordinary past-time in the west.)
Japanese filmmakers have always excelled at making quiet movies about ordinary life. Kurasawa is better known here in the West, but Yasujiro Ozu was much better beloved in Japan, and he spent his entire career making quiet, reflective dramas looking at the lives of ordinary people (check out "Tokyo Story," one of the all-time great films). The Japanese also tend to value such films more than we do. This one swept almost all of the Japanese Academy awards in 1997, winning thirteen in all, including best picture, best actor, and best actress.
According to its writer/director, Masayuki Suo, it was inspired as a Japanese response to the MUCH more flamboyant Australian film, "Strictly Ballroom," by Baz Luhrman. Suo went for a different humor, and made his film much more moving.
The film is about a successful salaryman, Mr. Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho), who is putting himself entirely into his job as an accountant for a big corporation. He does the long hours that are expected of him and travels to and from his small suburban house. There is nothing else in his life.
You sense he's not completely happy, not completely satisfied, but you also see that he's utterly reliable--he will do his job, provide for his family, and pay for the house.
One evening, from his commuter train, he notices a beautiful, willowy young woman (Tamiyo Kusakari) in the window of a small building. She is looking out into the night, distracted, looking at everything and nothing. Eventually, he will get off the train and go to find out who she is.
The woman, Mai, is a teacher at a dance studio. Obviously smitten with her, he signs up for dance lessons. And then something wonderful happens Mr. Sugiyama slowly develops a real passion in his life. Not for the girl, but for dancing. It's a midlife crisis gone right.
Before long he is practicing his dance steps on the train platform and signing up for dance competitions. For Japan, he's entered something of an underground world. The film manages to avoid the cliches you'd dread to see, like the Big Competition (although it does have such a scene, it isn't there to provide a cheap resolution to the plot), and come to genuinely surprising conclusions.
A lot of that is due to the wonderful and totally believable performances by the two leads, but it is also exceptionally deft at avoiding where you expect it to go, and going to more interesting places. Each character has their own thing going on, and the film is scrupulous about giving each character his or her due.
Since its surprises all deal with character rather than plot points, if anyone tries to tell you anything more about this film before you see it, kill them.
We tend to be a bit dismissive of comedies and romances here. Think of our Oscars, and the common assumption that comedies don't win awards. But, like "The Princess Bride," (and I believe this to be of that quality) this is remembered, fondly.
In fairness, I must write that I saw it first before it was Miramaxed, which process made it 20 minutes shorter. Naturally, all Weinstein got rid of were scenes that made the characters more complex. *sigh* Someday maybe they'll release it in its original cut on DVD.If you want watch an charming, enjoyable film, or are interested in what everyday life is like in Japan, or like dancing, or appreciate great filmmaking--there are a LOT of reasons to watch this one.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4297&reviewer=301
originally posted: 08/18/03 16:24:06