"Shall We Dance?" (1997)
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5 stars)

    Koji Yakusho as SHOHEI SUGIYAMA
    Tamiya Kusakari as MAI KISHIKAWA
    Naoto Takenaka as TOMIO AOKI
    Eriko Watanabe as TOYOKO TAKAHASHI

    Rated PG
    Studio: Miramax

    Directed by: Masayuki Suo
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When it came to “Shall We Dance,” I went about the whole thing backwards. Instead of watching this Japanese version when it originally came out, I watched the 2004 American remake first. This gave me an interesting perspective in that I found myself comparing the original to it, rather than it to the original.

In some ways, I probably would have been more fond of this film if it didn’t have the build-up and hype around it. I did kinda expect more than I got.

“Shall We Dance” follows Mr. Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) who leads a hum drum life. But one day on the train home, he sees a beautiful woman gazing from a window above the tracks. Inspired by her, he gets off the train to meet her. However, when he enters her dance studio, he is swept into ballroom dancing classes - just to get a chance to talk to her.

After weeks of learning to dance, Sugiyama discovers that he likes it. However, there’s suspicion at home as his wife starts to wonder where he disappears to late at night. Sugiyama continues to keep his dancing a secret, causing tension in his own family.

This is a movie about passion - not sexual passion, but passion for a hobby. Passion for something other than your boring existence. I don’t quite think that all of the passion is brought onto the screen, but I did believe the characters were feeling it.

This is a really cute film. It’s not spectacular, but it is cute. I would imagine that it will hurt the DVD rentals having only the Japanese soundtrack and no dubbing. I don’t mind reading subtitles, but your average viewer tends to not like them.

The film is a little slow-going when it starts, and we spend a little too much time in the dancing lessons themselves. Also, the acting is weighted down by the Japanese demeanor. I know it’s a cultural thing, but I kept getting the feeling that someone was scolding all the actors before the director yelled “Action!”

Part of the strong spirit of “Shall We Dance” comes from the cast of quirky characters. My favorite, of course, is Sugiyama’s office mate Tomio Aoki (Naoto Takenaka), who is trying to be the Latin heartthrob of the Japanese Amateur Dance scene.

This film really speaks to anyone who feels like they’re in a rut. If only all of us could find joy in a hobby or excursion like he does. There’s a truth to the emotions from the characters, and that simply is the single biggest reason the film works.

The only extra feature on this DVD is a look inside the Hollywood remake of “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. It’s a nice little feature, but honestly, didn’t we see enough of this on the 2004 “Shall We Dance” DVD? This is nothing more than a commercial for the other video.

I would have rather had something with a little more substance. Maybe a commentary from someone comparing the two films. Or possibly a featurette of the making of the original Japanese movie. This is Miramax, after all. You’d think they’d be able to come up with something.

Specifications: Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1) - Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Original Japanese language track. English, French and Spanish subtitles.

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