Shall We Dance - * * *

Shall We Dance is a charming Japanese comedy about an ordinary businessman who finds an escape from life in the world of ballroom dancing.

Koji Yakusyo stars as Shohei Sugiyama, a happily married accountant whose routine life is steadily sinking him into depression. On his daily commute, he passes the window of a dance studio, and he happens to notice a dancer (Tamiyo Kusakari) sadly staring out the window. He senses a distant connection, yet , since Japanese society frowns upon public dancing, he doesn’t investigate.

However, as the days go by, he sees her more and more, and finally builds up the confidence to sign up for dance lessons and meet the mystery lady. Unfortunately, she only teaches private lessons, and Shohei can only afford the group lessons. But he sticks with it, and soon finds that ballroom dancing changes his whole outlook on life.

Koji Yakusyo creates an interesting character as Mr. Sugiyama. He’s not a uptight guy who needs to loosen up, but rather he’s a normal man who wants a taste of something different. Yet, he conforms to society’s pressure to the extent that he keeps his actions hidden from his wife and daughter.

It’s the supporting actors, however, who steal the show. Naoto Takenaka, as the wild dancer Tomio Aoki, is the comic highlight. His wild man dance routine, and his public secret identity provide laughs every time he’s on screen. Shohei’s classmates, Yu Tokui and Hiromasa Taguchi, also provide ample comic relief. Eriko Watanabe as Toyoho Takahashi, an abrasive dancer looking for a partner with whom to go pro, also has several good scenes.

When the film strays, it is usually due to cultural differences. It’s difficult to see why Shohei hides so much from his beloved wife, or why there is such a stigma to ballroom dancing at all. However, once you look past the cultural differences, Shall We Dance has the heart of a winner.

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