"Gotta sing, gotta dance" -- but not if you're a middle-aged Japanese businessman in a country that frowns on public contact with the opposite sex.
Winner of the equivalent of 13 Oscars in Japan, "Shall We Dance?" is a limber gem, a kind and inspirational depiction of the personal blossoming of a repressed, nondescript middle-manager whose clandestine ballroom dance lessons bring him great release and awaken him to the joys of life.
Similar in tone and theme to Vittorio De Sica
's classic "A Brief Vacation", in which a female Italian factory worker opens up and thrives during a stint away from her repressive family life, this Miramax release is a delightful tonic for a summer overladen with cardboard characters. To boot, it's refreshing to see a sympathetic and insightful depiction of a middle-aged businessman, usually the object of ridicule these days.
Reportedly, the success of the film has started a ballroom dance craze in Japan, where "business golf" is one of the few enjoyments afforded the workaholic "salary man," namely the millions of worker-bee, white-collar men who ride the trains every day into the big cities from their hutchlike houses and toil in lock-step regularity.
In this remarkable character study, Koji Yakusho stars as Shohei, a burned-out businessman who, on an otherwise dispirited train ride home, captures a glimpse of a graceful dancer in an upstairs window. It is the silhouette of a beautiful instructor, Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari
), and the vision becomes an obsession. Soon he finds himself getting off the train, entering the school and signing up for ballroom dance instruction despite the fact he can hardly afford it.
Like a bashful schoolboy, Shohei begins his lessons but not, to his quiet regret, with the beautiful instructress who inspired him to come there in the first place.
Not surprisingly, Shohei is a stiff and tentative dancer, a manifestation of his repressed nature and his socially ingrained tendency not to open up and express himself.
Indeed, it's with small steps, some of them crisscrossed and in the wrong direction, that Shohei begins his personal awakening as emblematized by his growing personal confidence with his dancing and himself.
Wonderfully comic and spry, "Shall We Dance?" is a glowing portrait of people coming out of their shell and, through dance, connecting not only with others but with themselves.
Flavored with idiosyncratic personal textures and widened by its cultural and social insights, "Shall We Dance?" is a masterfully told, universal story, written and directed by Masayuki Suo
with grace, verve and delicacy.
The lead players are wonderful, particularly Yakusho as the repressed businessman who comes to find himself and Kusakari as the elusive instructress.
Technical credits are similarly polished and well-heeled, particularly cinematographer Naoki Kayano
's illuminating scopings of the oppressive structures of modern-day Japanese life. The film is continually lifted by the zesty cuts of editors Kiyoshi Yoneyama
and Jun'ichi Kikuchi.
SHALL WE DANCE?
Producers Masayuki Suo
Shoji Masui, Yuji Ogata
Screenwriter-director Masayuki Suo
Executive producers Hiroyuki Kato
, Shigeru Ohno
, Tetsuya Ikeda
Director of photography Naoki Kayano
Lighting director Tatsuya Osada
Production designer Kyoko Heya
Sound mixer-editor Kiyoshi Yoneyama
Editor Jun'ichi Kikuchi
Music Yoshikazu Suo
"Shall We Dance?" performed by Taeko Ohnuki
Shohei Sugiyama Koji Yakusho
Mai Kishikawa Tamiyo KusakariTomio Aoki
Naoto TakenakaToyoko Takahashi
Toru Miwa Akira Emoto
Tokichi Hattori Yu Tokui
Masahiro Tanaka Hiromasa Taguchi
Running time -- 118 minutes
MPAA rating: PG