Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shall We Dance? review

Sugiyama feels the pain of a mundane day job and little in life to look forward to after accomplishing the standard goals for a socially restricted middle-class father. On his way home, almost in response to his wife’s unheard suggestion that he enjoy himself, a dance studio with a beautiful woman inside catches his attention from the train. With an awkward and less than satisfactory start, Sugiyama begins questioning his decisions and deals with his growing passion for dance, which grants him indescribable feelings of bliss.

The Good?
The film has a very strong premise. For international audiences, it sets up the almost-taboo nature of ballroom dancing in the country because of its intimacy and public displays that render it embarrassing. For a male to be participating in this female activity is unheard of, so it becomes a strong conflict when Sugiyama falls into this world.

Director Masayuki Suo makes the dancing comical, accessible and appealing to newcomers. As cheesy and overdone as it is, the amateur to adept story is still inspiring and entertaining, complete with elegantly edited waltz montages of Sugiyama improving in the studio, or dancing at work or in the train station.

The film has an unexpectedly rich comedic side from deadpan humor to awkward situation comedy and recurring gags. If it's not funny, it's definitely a light, fun time.

More characters slowly enter the fray, from an obstinate partnerless dancer, Toyoko to the double-life leading Aoki, who is a quiet, refined office worker in the day and a lavish wig-wearing, energetic dancer by night. They offer a strong variety and contrast to our main character and some amusing subplots. Mostly, there's a sense of warmth to be had from all these characters, whose lives have been touched by Sugiyama's simple act of impulse to dance one evening.

The Bad?
The inclusion of all these extra characters draws some attention away from Sugiyama. He's the easiest for us to understand and empathize with, so the sub-plots sometimes leave us itching to return to his main development.


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