Shall We Dance?, (1995)
No, it’s not the one you think it is. It does not star Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, or J. Lo. It’s the predecessor to the American romantic comedy, only done much more, well, likeably. I mean, no offense to Hollywood, but the remake tried to substitute all the charm of the Japanese original with too much glitz and glamour to make it even remotely as enjoyable as this film.
The story’s not difficult to follow: workaholic Shohei (Koji Yakusho) is lured into a dance studio by the unhappy woman gazing out of the window nightly. Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari), an accomplished professional dancer, reluctantly teaches ballroom dancing (mostly to lecherous old men, which definitely contributes to her unhappiness). Although Shohei joins because of his curiosity about Mai, he stays because he loves to dance.
But dancing – well, there’s some problems with sticking around. For starters, his wife begins to suspect an affair; there’s also the general embarrassment to be suffered if his coworkers discover his hobby. But in Japanese culture, as the movie (and my flatmate) explain, it’s unusual to see physical contact in public. In fact, most married couples won’t even hold hands. Still, it seems a subculture has grown up around ballroom dancing, and characters young and old, and with all different levels of quirkiness, are drawn in.
It's a shame that the Hollywood version copied this film nearly frame for frame, only exaggerating as they go along. This film really depends on its “smallness” – facial expressions, a few lines of dialogue, a glance here or a gesture there – to move the story and develop its characters. And instead of teaching pop stars to dance the waltz, they took professional dancers and made them actors. I can’t comment so much on Tamiyo Kusakari’s acting skills (all I can say in Japanese is ramen and pikachu - oh, language barrier, you'll be the death of me), but her posture is ridiculously good.
There’s really nothing stellar about this film, but that’s why I like it so much. It’s about one man’s realizations, one dancer’s rediscovery, and everyone else’s support/acceptance. It’s not life and death material, and the filmmakers know it.
I really should look into lessons. Ballroom dancing movies are quickly developing into my new favorite sub-genre. If you’re like me, you’ll most likely enjoy Strictly Ballroom or Mad Hot Ballroom (I’ll pass on Dancing with the Stars: reality television can’t be good for your health).