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Robert Abrams
Movie Reviews

Shall We Dance (1997)

by Robert Abrams
December 31, 2000

A Review of "Shall We Dance?" (1997)

Robert Abrams


"Shall We Dance?" (1997) is above all an artful film. The director takes great care to show the characters' slow build of resolve, step by step. Once in a while the film has one of those "let me get out of the way so the two of you can do your soliloquy" moments, but most of the film's plot is believable. People who go to movies largely for nudity and explosions will not understand this, but there is definitely something to be said for a well staged tableau, especially when combined with a well-timed focus pull.

The real fantasy in this film is an element that most viewers will probably miss if they haven't been sufficiently sucked into the dance world. I have seen this film at least four times, and have been dancing for about four years, if you don't count learning the Charleston and the Mexican Hat Dance at the Knickerbocker Ballroom in the Seventh Grade or so. I didn't notice the blatant fantastical aspect of "Shall We Dance?"'s world until this last viewing.

Two dance instructors coach the main character for a big amateur competition. For six hours per week. For three months. For free. Dance instructors are, by and large, a friendly and supportive lot, but there is an inherent dynamic in nearly every studio which pushes students to take more lessons, and compete. The more lessons students take, the more the dance teacher and the more the studio earns. Both from lesson fees and from the standard competition kickbacks euphemistically referred as "top teacher awards". Some of this is just business, even when it starts to feel mercenary. Some of this, even, to some extent, the mercenary parts, is educationally correct in that a good teacher should push a student to work and practice and excel. Plus, as I said above, dance instructors are, by and large, a friendly and supportive lot. We wouldn't want them to starve. Which is why students often get in the habit of bringing their instructors muffins and coffee.

It is possible that you might be lucky enough to find two strikingly beautiful, world-class dancers, one of whom subconsciously knows she is in need of redemption but doesn't consciously realize it, and the other who just thinks you are sweet and doesn't have anything better to do at night, and who both decide to take you on as their special project to elevate you from a bored and lonely salaryman to a graceful, competitive dancer. However, if I were you, I wouldn't count on it.

To keep things parallel, there is the private investigator who conducts an extensive investigation for free.

This film is filled with parallel elements, including both main characters who are propelled into action by being bumped on a stairwell. (For extra credit, figure out what this has to do with "The Matchmaker", reviewed elsewhere.) These parallel elements contribute to the film's artful nature.

"Shall We Dance?" features Waltz and Quickstep (referred to in the sub-titles as "modern" dances), and Rumba and Paso Doble on the Latin side. What really endears the main character to me, though, is his daring willingness during the big final number to switch from Quickstep to Swing and back mid-song while making the transitions smoothly and without hesitation.

If you are into dance movies, "Shall We Dance?" is definitely a member of the canon.


Masayuki Suo

Masayuki Suo

Koji Yakusho - Shohei Sugiyama
Tamiyo Kusakari - Mai Kishikawa
Naoto Takenaka - Tomio Aoki
Eriko Watanabe - Toyoko Takahashi
Akira Emoto - Toru Miwa
Yu Tokui - Tokichi Hattori
Hiromasa Taguchi - Masahiro Tanaka
Reiko Kusamura - Tamako Tamura
Hideko Hara - Masako Sugiyama
Syuichiro Moriyama - Ryou Kishikawa
Masahiro Motoki - Hiromasa Kimoto
Misa Shimizu - Natsuko


Yasuyoshi Tokuma
Masayuki Suo
Shoji Masui
Yuji Ogata

Executive Producer(s):
Tetsuya Ikeda
Hiroyuki Kato
Seiji Urushido
Shigeru Ohno
Kazuhiro Igarashi

Naoki Kayano

Jun'ichi Kikuchi

Music Composer:
Yoshikazu Suo

Production Design:
Kyoko Heya

Tetsu Maeda

Kiyoshi Yoneyama - mixer

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