Movie review by Andrea Karen Hammer
The original version of Shall We Dance? (1996) is quietly enchanting.
Viewers are hooked from the moment that Mr. Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) stares up longingly at dance teacher Mai Kishikawa (Tamiyo Kusakari) from the window of his passing train. Each night, he sees her gazing out from behind the curtains at her second-story school.
The vision of the youthful Mai, with rod-straight posture and an expression filled with melancholy, jolts the midlife accountant out of his dull routine. Nightly glimpses of the regal-looking dancer eventually prompt the routine-entrenched husband and father to sign up for ballroom dancing lessons.
Learning to Dance and Training for a Competition
With the help of background narration and English subtitles, viewers learn that partner dancing in Japan is considered embarrassing. Nonetheless, Mr. Sugiyama succumbs to the temptation to learn ballroom dancing in an effort to break free of the doldrums.
Slowly, with the help of a kind and patient older teacher and the gradually softening Mai, we watch Mr. Sugiyama gain confidence in his ability to dance. As they train him for a competition, the increasingly energized student in turn helps Mai rediscover her renewed trust in a dance partner.
Remake of Film Goes in Pop Culture Direction
The remake of this film (2004) with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez loses the subtlety and focus on pure ballroom dancing. Both actors commit to hours of rigorous training, but the addition of The Pussycat Dolls tries to build on pop-culture appeal. Other highlights of this version include Stanley Tucci, adding spirited flavor, while Susan Sarandon grounds the film as Gere’s wife.
Although the remake of this movie with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez had its moments, the first version registers with greater authenticity. From Mr. Sugiyama’s shy and respectful manner to Mai’s mask of restraint melting as she watches him practice steps on the train platform, the original Shall We Dance? captures the rigorous discipline required in ballroom dancing.
Questions for Artsphoria’s Online Film Forum
Which version of this movie do you prefer, and why? Did you think the billing of this film as a comedy was accurate, and what did you think about the more humorous scenes?
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