Home Page > Movies Index (w/mixed oldies) > > Movie Review

This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Will you be my new romance?

Shall We Dance? (1996) on IMDb

Plot Overview

The economic recovery in the 1960s gave rise in Japan to the “salary man.” Such a one was expected to work for a single company all his life. He was to be available for unlimited over­time, often with­out pay. His leisure hours were prone to be spent with his fellow workers. Consequently, not much of his time was spent at home. Such a life gave rise to karoshi, death by over­work. In Japan ball­room dancing bugs waltzing was looked upon with much suspicion, perhaps akin to how belly dancing would be regarded in the west.

accountant at deskAn accountant Shohei Sugiyama (Kôji Yakusho) got married at 28 to Masako (Hideko Hara), at 30 had a daughter Chikage (Ayano Nakamura), and bought a house at age 40. Rising each morning at 5:30 a.m. he is properly thankful over break­fast (“For what I'm about to receive—”) How­ever, his family notices, “He does seem depressed lately.”

His train passes by Kishikawa School of Dancing every day where he notices the beautiful face of Mai Kishikawa (Tamiyo Kusakari) in an upstairs window. On a whim he stops by (“Feel free to watch”) but can't afford the lessons (“They are private lessons”) from Mai. How­ever, he does sign up for group lessons under the tutelage of the more matronly Tamako Tamura (Raiko Kusamura.) They are given at 8 p.m. weekdays.

His wife notices, “he stays out late on Wednesdays” and she does “wonder what cheered him up.” She hires a private investigator from Miwa & Co. to get to the bottom of it. The PI dabbles in marriage counseling by inviting the family to see for them­selves at the Eastern Japan Amateur Dance Competition. There, as we would say in America, the stuff hits the fan, and Masako san evaluates it as, “Even if it was dancing, it still was an affair.”


Let's use the perspective of sociologist Bennet Berger (66–7):

The literary critic Malcolm Cowley wrote Exile's Return, a book about the experience of American literary expatriates in Europe in the 1920's. In it he treats to some extent the history of bohemian­ism, starting back in the middle of the 19th century with that important document of bohemian history, Henry Murger's Scenes of Bohemian Life. By 1920, Cowley says, bohemia had a relatively formal doctrine, “a system of ideas that could be roughly summarized as follows”:

#7 “The idea of psychological adjustment.—We are unhappy because ... we are repressed.” To Cowley, the then-contemporary version of the doctrine prescribed that repression could and should be overcome by Freudian analysis, or by the mystic qualities of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff's psycho-physical disciplining, or by a daily dose of thyroid. Today, repression may be up-tightness or “game reality,” and it is not Freud but Reich, not thyroid but LSD, not Gurdjieff but yoga, I Ching, The Book of the Dead, or some other meditational means of transcending the realities that hang one up.

Now compare that with this exhortation from business writer George Kahn: Being a Two-Dimensional Man (18–21)

There is the mistake of being a “lopsided” man, a two- dimensional individual who never develops his true potential for living. He is not a whole man. His two activities are working and sustaining life. As a person, he is fast beating a path to mediocrity.

You have seen this man. He has never achieved a proper balance among work, play, love, and spiritual values. He has never gotten beyond his own narrow enclosure, even to the extent of tasting a new dish. A suggestion that he develop an avocation draws only a blank stare. He is a fractional man.

Cowley's “idea of psychological adjustment” finds similar expression in (Job 39:9-12), “Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? Or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? Or wilt thou leave thy labor to him? Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn?” This “unicorn” was a kind of untamable kine in the region of Palestine that could not be domesticated & worked even if one started with it as a calf. I believe the idea here is that we cannot harness by our work alone the need of some escape to bring a balanced happiness.

Pretty Mai Kishikawa tells Sugiyama san, “This may sound rude, but I hope you don't join the class with me as your goal.” He had invited her to dinner after class saying the food doesn't taste good eaten alone, this while his wife is waiting at home with his dinner. I believe the idea is that of, (Sirach 9:9) “Sit not at all with another man's wife, nor sit down with her in thine arms, and spend not thy money with her at the wine; lest thine heart incline unto her, and so through thy desire thou fall into destruction.” As long as they kept the dancing strictly business, they seemed to do okay, though it is probably not a good idea for a husband and wife to keep secrets from each other.

Anthropologist Desmond Morris describes the human interaction of “Intention Movements: … small, preparatory movements … act[ing] as clues, revealing what we intend to do” (173). He says dancing takes it to an extreme. “Nearly all human dancing is basically a long series of varying Intention Movements. To put it another way, dancing is locomotion that gets us nowhere. We take to the dance floor and we move, and we move, and we are still there when the music ends. We turn and we sway and we tilt, back and forth and round and round. Viewed objectively, the dancer is rather like a parrot in a small cage, bobbing and weaving on its perch but unable to fly away. With us the condition is voluntary. We find it comforting to perform and even comforting to watch. The rhythm of the alternating Intention Movements has become an end in itself” (176–7).

SWD lays out for us piecemeal the various beginning dynamics, starting with ball­room dance position: Man and woman stand close facing each other. The man's stretched out left hand grasps the woman's stretched out right. The man is always the lead, the woman the follow. To borrow a line from Kate Wilhelm, “seeing how Binnie had reached for his hand, how he had looked at her. His expression had been so soft, so loving” (10–11).

The man reaches around with his right hand and places it on the small of his partner's back. She leans back into his firm hand, and this coupled with the pressure of their hands together forms a “frame” enabling her to respond to his subtle non-verbal lead. Perhaps it is J.D. Salinger who describes the epitome of it as: “it was worth it. The blonde was some dancer. She was one of the best dancers I ever danced with. I'm not kidding, some of these … girls can really knock you out on the dance floor. You take a really smart girl, and half the time she's trying to lead you around the dance floor, or else she's … a lousy dancer … ¶“‘You really can dance,’ I told the blonde one. ‘You oughta be a pro. I mean it. I danced with a pro once, and you're twice as good as she was.’ … ¶“‘You know when a girl's really a terrific dancer?’ ¶“‘Uh-uh.’ ¶“‘Well—where I have my hand on your back. If I think there isn't any­thing under­neath my hand—no can, no legs, no feet, no anything—then the girl's really a terrific dancer’” (70–71). The girl should move so the pressure on her back remains constant. That way she's following his lead which­ever way he goes.

And she's his responsibility to keep safe from collisions with other dancers on the floor, all the more important when the tempo picks up. “‘Where you girls from?’ I asked her. ¶“‘Seattle, Washington … ’ ¶“ … the band was starting a fast one. She started jitter­bugging with me—but just very nice and easy, not corny. She was really good. All you had to do was touch her” (72–3). SWD gets dramatic when it follows some dramatic collision(s). The judges didn't dock too many points for it, because, “To the end he tried to protect his partner.” It's like in Erik Larson's book on the last crossing of the Lusitania: “the men were forgetting them­selves, and seeing after the women and children. They could not do much, because the list prevented the launching of most of the boats, but they were doing their best and playing the man” (312). Here the movie, as well, assigns the man his manly responsibility, but he can best exercise it if the woman is fully yielded.

Production Values

This Japanese movie, “” (1996) was written and directed by Masayuki Suo. It stars Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, and Naoto Takenaka. The cast is universally marvelous. Sugiyama is well played by Yakusho. Naoto Takenaka as Aoki is a comic stand­out of mixed identities. And Reiko Kusamura is graceful as the ranking dance instructor.

MPAA rated it PG for mild language. The comedy was based on charm rather than on joke lines. The sound­track was easy to listen to. SWD had a heart­felt story line with excellent character development. The title derived from “The King and I” did not seem like a rip off. To top it all off, the beginning dance moves would be instructive to the uninitiated. The 2004 remake with Richard Greer lacked this one's subtlety of the Japanese culture.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This was a very engaging movie that dealt with real modern problems rather than exploit some kind of underdog prevails plot. The characters all seemed real enough to me even though they weren't Americans. It's a first rate foreign film.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie Special effects: Well done special effects Suspense: A few suspenseful moments Overall movie rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture was cited from the King James Version, Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Print.

Apocryphal scripture taken from The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. U.S.A.: Hendrick­son Pub. Originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London, 1851. Print, WEB.

Berger, Bennet. “Hippie Morality – More Old Than New,” From Transaction/Society magazine, reprinted in John Gagnon & William Simon, The Sexual Scene. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1973. Print.

Kahn, George. The 36 Biggest Mistakes Salesmen Make and How to Correct Them. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Print.

Larson, Erik. Dead Wake. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.

Morris, Desmond. Manwatching. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977. Print.

Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Bantham Books, 1981. Print.

Wilhelm, Kate. Heaven is High. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2011. Print.