Old Stuff

Shall we dansu? (1996)

Directed by Masayuki Suo

Shall We Dansu? -- dance

The only unfortunate news about this month's abundance of "grade A" movies is that they don't lend themselves to the half-wit rantings that has become the staple of "Movie Mutt" but I'll try my best (at this rate I’ll have to close her down because of too many good vibes -- except for that scary "The Peacemaker" review, of course).

From the land that brought you the original "Godzilla," "Hidden Fortress," "Yojimbo," "Tampopo," Mitsubishi Corporation and World War II (the most stupid thing I could think of saying) comes a subtle, and at times, melancholy comedy that will make you forget all about your phone bill and credit card payments. "Shall we dansu?" is that rare type of movie that's deserving of the "gem" label so overused in schlock Leonard Maltin-esque movie promotion. "Shall we dansu?" is a balm to the soul, an infectious groove, double cheery pie and disco super-fly. Good, rich, sweet-stuff like this is rare.

Shall We Dansu? -- subway

Mr. Sugiyama (played by a dignified Koji Yakusho) is a family man stoicly suffering through a mid-life crisis. He's got a wife and a ten year-old daughter. He's got a job as an accountant and a new house with a mortgage. Hmm... not too surprisingly, he feels that something is missing. His one joy is to get a glimpse of an equally melancholy woman called "Mai" (an elegant Tamiyo Kusakari) that works at a dance school that he sometimes sees during his daily train ride home from work. His little act of madness is to join the dance school in the hopes of getting closer to this sweety-pie.

Shall We Dansu? -- Mai

Here is where things get good. In a typical Hollywood film, the dancer is sad because she (a) has a psycho, drug-dealing boyfriend that she can't escape from... (b) is really a man trap-psycho herself that won't let go once she's got her hooks in a man... (c) is being forced by her parents into a loveless marriage. None of that Hollywood-shit transpires in "Shall we dansu?". This is a movie about how Mr. Sugiyama discovers a love of dance that transforms his view of his job, his family and even the woman whose sadness prompted him to deviate from his stifling routine in the first place. The closest movie I can think of to compare "Shall we dansu?" to is Bill Forsyth's "Local Hero." Both movies are rich in layers of meaning and are wonderfully subtle both in their comedy and drama. Both movies are filled with interesting characters that draw you in and reward you with little glimpses of their humanity.

Shall We Dansu? -- hot blooded

Sugiyama's boss, Mr. Aoki (played brilliantly by Naoto Takenaka), almost steals the movie with his performance as a middle management bureaucrat who transforms himself into a hot blooded Latin lover on the dance floor -- a strange and wonderfully over-the-top performance. Great stuff like this will win over all but the most hardened of sociopaths. Keep your eyes peeled for director Masayuki Suo's next movie. -- Rating: $9.50

Tom Graney -- copyright Hollywood Outsider 1997

Old Stuff