Shall We Dance?

This comedy about a straitlaced Japanese businessman, Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho), who takes ballroom-dancing classes in order to meet a gorgeous but aloof dance instructor, was a huge hit at home -- the phrase "the SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER of Japan" has been bandied about. Don't expect any pulse-pounding, pelvis-grinding dance-floor action, though: It's...read more

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Reviewed by Sandra Contreras
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This comedy about a straitlaced Japanese businessman, Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho), who takes ballroom-dancing classes in order to meet a gorgeous but aloof dance instructor, was a huge hit at home -- the phrase "the SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER of Japan" has

been bandied about. Don't expect any pulse-pounding, pelvis-grinding dance-floor action, though: It's unquestionably a charming picture, but you have to get the cultural context straight. For those who don't know that such free-spirited activities as ballroom dancing are frowned upon in Japan, and

that ignoring your spouse is considered quite normal, hero Sugiyama's behavior is sometimes puzzling. When Shohei begins his group lessons, the lovely Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari) is scornful; she figures he's just like all the other dirty old men who just want to hit on her. But after they team up to

train for a prestigious dance competition, the unlikely pair develop a mutually enriching relationship that -- since this isn't an American film -- never blossoms into an affair; all their passion is channeled into never less than decorous dancing. The irresistible supporting players -- including

the overweight, insecure but game Tanaka (Hiromasa Taguchi), the alternatingly self-effacing and flamboyant Aoki (Naoto Takenaka) and the tyrannical Toyoko (Eriko Watanabe) -- do much to make the film enjoyable. The story is spare, and it would be easy to write the film off as lightweight, but

there's something -- slight though it may be -- at its center. It addresses issues of stultifying routine and the small crises of middle-aged life, and deserves credit for not obscuring the simple story with a flurry of smoke and mirrors.

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