Reviewed by: Brian Nigro
“Shall We Dance?” borrows its title from a 1937 musical starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This innocuous Japanese comedy recaptures the spirit of those MGM musicals quite nicely. It’s as formal and well-mannered as its leads, a married business man named Mr. Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) and Ms. Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari), the ballroom dance instructor who inspires him.
The plot treads very, very loosely on adulterous themes. Mr. Sugiyama seems dead bored with both work and family. His wife off-handedly remarks to his daughter that he should get out more and have fun. Ironically, that’s exactly what he’s doing, yet he keeps it a secret from his family. Mrs. Sugiyama suspects an affair and goes so far as to hire a private investigator. Of course, he’s not “cheating” per se, and this movie actually upholds the sanctity of marriage, but that’s a minor point to the story.
What makes this movie so entertaining are the secondary characters and scene-stealers. Most of the scenes, after all, take place in the dance studio and the learning-to-crawl theatrics of the adult students are milked for all their clean, comedic value. If this were an American movie, there’d be a few Supporting Actor and Actress nominations.
I was reminded to an extent of any number of recent Australian comedies, namely “Strictly Ballroom”. However, the only thing “Shall We Dance?” shares in common (beside the subject matter), is a dance competition at the end. There are no excessively flamboyant costumes or hair styles, no MTV bubblegum soundtrack. Rather, the movie is indebted to Lawrence Welk and the formal dinner dates.
If you enjoy big band and vintage music, you’ll truly enjoy “Shall We Dance?”. (In Japanese with English subtitles). The reason for its PG-13 rating remains unclear. There is no profanity (only one subtitled vulgar phrase), no violence, and no sexual content (shown or implied). If you’d like to see this quality film, don’t look for it in the local multiplex—check your community art theatre or look for it in the foreign section of the video store once it is released.
Year of USA Release—1997
See our review of the American remake of this film: “Shall We Dance?”