Story: Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) is your typical Japanese employee in his mid-40s. He has a hard office job
and a wife and daughter waiting for him at home.
Since he has just bought a new house for his family and he still has to pay the mortgage there are also some money problems. Suffering from depression Sugiyama one day sitting in a train sees Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari) out of the window, who gives dancing lessons. To get to know her and because he wants to escape the drab monotony of everyday life he decides to take dancing lessons in secret. Although he oftentimes questions his decision and Mai behaves rather cold towards him, he can't deny that he takes pleasure in dancing.
Sugiyama's wife Masako (Hideko Hara) wonders about the sudden happiness of her husband and is afraid that he might have an affair. She hires a private detective to spy on him. Eventually, she finds out about the new passion of her marital partner and secretly sneaks into an amateur contest of her husband to see him dance with her own eyes.
Review: "Shall we dance" is the original movie which a remake was made of with Jennifer Lopez und Richard Gere
hitting the big screen not so long ago. While it is pretty unlikely that I get into the unpleasant situation to watch
the remake, I had no problems at all watching Masayuki Suo's version. The good thing about Asian cinema is that even
a dance movie can be quite entertaining, even if you usually avoid these kind of movies as it is in my case.
Luckily, Suo proves that we can rightfully expect more of Japanese cinema than from kitsch-loaden Hollywood flicks.
"Shall we dance" is a drama, which is about the pressure of society to act according to a certain role one has to take on. Sugiyama ticks like a clock-work, has a mortgage to take care of and a nice little family. That he can't be happy with life as it is, is absolutely understandable and so he discovers dancing as an act of breaching through the bounds that society has forced him to fit into. This is the more remarkable as dancing in Japan, especially ballroom-dancing, is very frowned upon. A man just doesn't dance in Japan's buttoned up business world.
Sugiyama's first interest in dancing has its origin in his attraction to Mai. However, "Shall we dance" doesn't walk the uninventive road of infidelity with a resulting melodramatic center of events, but instead explores the life of these two individuals very professionally. It's more about the inner change, that Sugiyama goes through. The drama his life resembles is brought into play in a more subtle way, being in the background most of the time. Actually, the movie is full of a special warmth that ones gets swathed in while watching. This is mainly thanks to the great characters and the modest humor. Yet, sometimes there are some scenes that are so ingeniously in its situation comedy that one might have to laugh out loud. So, humor doesn't come too short, either.
The actors have all been cast very well. Koji Yakusho gives an impressive performance as the introverted, serious businessman and so it's easy for the viewer to sympathize with him. His slow transformation is also very believable. Nevertheless, because of his relatively quite nature, it's no effort for the hot tempered latin dancer Aoki, played by Naoto Takenaka to steal the show. Takenaka mimes the actually reserved colleague of Sugiyama, who after putting on a wig turns into a completely different person. In his incredible extroverted way of expressing himself through dancing he sometimes is even too much. Besides his efforts the other actors do at least a solid job, too. It's also nice to see that director Masayuki Suo implements some sidestories with his supporting characters into the movie, which don't happen to disturb the big whole at all.
The only one that can't be really convincing in her role is Tamiyo Kusakari as Mai. Her portrayel is too shallow und cold to affect us, which is the more of a bother as she is one of the main actors. Even though you wouldn't guess so watching the movie.
If dancing is fun for you then you will have a fun ride here. Although dancing is merely a means to an end for Sugiyama to come out of his shell, it's definitely in the movie's spotlight. There are a lot of dancing steps shown and sometimes they are accompanied by some wacky moments. Furthermore, there are ballroom contests, that are all a feast for the eye with its pompous style. Well, that is if this is your cup of tea... I must admit that, even though I respect dance as an artistic way to express oneself, I can't make anything out of it. But even for those "Shall we dance" has some nice moments to offer. The good directing of Suo, the mostly outstanding actors and the credibility with which the movie deals with the topic, despite some well executed funny moments scattered throughout the movie, make this story of a journey into the life of a man, who finally abjures from the prescript stencil-like way of living society demands of him and actually starts to live, a definite recommandation!
Since the motive of dancing didn't get me all too excited, even if it wasn't a nuisance either, the movie has to bear with some small subtractions concerning the rating, even though this might feel a little bit inappropriate for some readers. Yet, if you keep that in mind and if you just can't get enough of dance movies you can feel free to add an additional point to the end result. In any case, "Shall we dance" is better than the remake, although I shouldn't be allowed to compare as of my lack of knowledge of the american version. But hey, c'mon: It's not that hard to do better than a romance with Lopez/Gere...