Everybody Dansu Now

20-Oct-07 3:49 PM by
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There are few ways I'd rather spend a Saturday night than dancing. So it seemed apt when one of my dance partners recommended the film Shall We Dance?, though she favored the 1997 Japanese original, not the 2004 American remake starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, and Susan Sarandon. Either story is that of an accountant whose spark for life is little more than an ember, fizzled under the weight of a wife, kid, and mortgage. But a chance encounter is about to ignite the fire in his heart and soles.

Mr. Sugiyama's subway ride home every day brings him past a dance studio, where he sees a forlorn instructor gazing out the window. Enraptured by this Juliet, he signs up for dancing lessons. But he does so secretly, without letting his family or workplace know — for as the prologue states, "Ballroom dancing is regarded with great suspicion in a country where couples don't go out hand in hand, or say 'I love you.'" What happens next is not as simple as a mid-life crisis culminating in an affair, but is about two lonely people who discover their love for dancing and life through, not in, each other. As Roger Ebert stated: "Shall We Dance? is not about love with a tantalizing mirage, then, but about a man losing his inhibitions and breaking out of the rut of his life."

In that regard, the film immediately brought to mind one of my favorite films, Lost in Translation — at first only superficially, based on the setting, but then more substantively, in the parallel desolation each film's starring couple must overcome. Lost in Translation is one of my all-time favorite films, as the sense of alienation the main characters feel is palatable and empathetic. Yet many people have found it to be a real snorefest; I expect that same audience would find little to capture their attention in Shall We Dance?. (Both films have scored at least 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Admittedly, Shall We Dance? is a somewhat slow film, and several extended dance scenes could've been shortened. It could've been worse, though, as 18 minutes were cut from the Japanese version for the American release. These scenes are not restored to the DVD as an optional bonus feature.

What's left is a fun story filled with quirky yet likable characters. The unlikely misfits that compose the dance studio reminded me of the ensemble of Richard Dreyfuss' Let It Ride, in that everyone's happiness seems to depend on one person's. Their threads culminate in an ending that had me smiling… and if you think about how often that happens, you'll realize it's a rare film that has that effect.

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