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Miramax Pictures presents
Shall We Dance? (1996)

"Dance is more than just the steps. Feel the music and dance for sheer joy." 
- Tamako (Reiko Kusamura)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: February 08, 2005

Stars: Koji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Watanabe, Akira Emoto
Director: Masayuki Suo

MPAA Rating: PG for mild language
Run Time: 01h:59m:02s
Release Date: February 01, 2005
UPC: 786936262049
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+B-B+ D

DVD Review

The movie musical has been reinvented in all kinds of interesting ways in recent years (ranging from Chicago to Bulworth to the South Park movie), but the genre still has never quite recovered from the hit it took when the Hays Code was tossed out in the late 1960s. Back in the day, when essentially every movie had to be rated G, characters couldn't have sex—but they could sing and dance, the latter being one of the few acceptable ways for men and women to make physical contact on screen. The modesty and reluctance to show any public displays of affection in many strata of contemporary Japanese society make for a sort of analogue to the Hollywood Code years; the comparison may be an imperfect one, but nonetheless this charming movie is impossible without being situated in a culture in which many blush at even the most casual public contact between men and women. (The American remake has some virtues, but cannot quite account for the different cultural mores between the U.S. and Japan.)

Mr. Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) is an emblematic salariman: he works hard, loves his wife and daughter, has bought a fine home, but something's missing. And that something becomes personified by a sight he sees from his commuter train: a lovely young woman, standing alone in the window of the Kishikawa School of Dancing. Sugiyama isn't seething with discontent, but he's in search of something to feed his soul; perhaps he'll find it at the dancing school, learning the basics of ballroom dancing, by finally holding that beautiful young woman, Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari) in his arms.

The strengths of Shall We Dance? have to do with the finely etched galaxy of characters we meet at the dancing school—played for comedy are figures like Aoki, a colleague of Sugiyama's who's reviled in his office, but trades in his bland business persona for a bewigged wild man on the dance floor; and genuinely touching is Toyoko, an overweight, diabetic young man, taking up dancing for his health, and hungry for just a kind word from a member of the opposite sex. Sugiyama keeps his dancing a secret from his wife, for fear of it shaming him and the family; she becomes suspicious that he's having an affair, however, and there's some comic mileage in the private detectives she hires to find out whether or not her husband is being unfaithful. What's lovely about the movie is that it's clear, from Yakusho's central performance especially, what the dancing means to him, how it makes him come alive; he doesn't need to articulate the need that it fills for him, even though he's a good and faithful family man.

Less successful is the third act of the film, in which, after the jig is up at home, Sugiyama's dancing friends woo him back to the school; this is largely because Mai remains a remote figure through the run of the story, and we're never wholly convinced that she's been transformed in the manner she tells us she has. But by that point the movie has stored up lots of good will, and the necessary plot machinations can be forgiven to wind things up in an orderly, tidy manner. It's a sweet and charming movie, and wisely doesn't overstay its welcome. 

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There are some resolution problems, and occasionally the colors can look overly gauzy; the first portion of the movie suffers especially on this score.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japaneseno

Audio Transfer Review: The dynamics are a little flat, but there's little if any aural interference.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Shall We Dance? (2004 remake), Miramax Home Entertainment ominibus trailer
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extra of note is a featurette (11m:30s) about the remake, with emphasis on both the film and its soundtrack.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

You'd have to have not only two left feet but a cold, cold heart not to be won over by the delicate charms of this sweet and good-hearted movie.


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