Shall We Dance?
"On his evening commute, bored accountant Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) always looks for the beautiful woman who gazes wistfully out the window of the Kishikawa School of Dancing. One night he gets off the train, walks into the studio, and signs up for a class. Soon Sugiyama is so engrossed in his dancing he practices his steps on the train platform and under his desk, and becomes good enough for competition, compelling his wife to hire a private investigator to find out why he stays out late and returns home smelling of perfume. Among the colorful characters Sugiyama meets is his coworker Aoki (Naoto Takenaka), who transforms himself from geeky systems analyst to hilariously flamboyant (and bad-wigged) lounge lizard. Aoki explains to Sugiyama, "When I finish work, put on the clothes, the wig and become Donny Burns, Latin world champion, and I start to move to the rhythm, I’m so happy, so completely free." Here lies the chief charm of Shall We Dance, the contrast between the ultracompetitive women of the studio—including the one who caught Sugiyama’s eye, Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari)—and the men who dance simply because they enjoy it. This 1996 film is somewhat comparable to the flamboyant Aussie favorite Strictly Ballroom, but Shall We Dance is especially noteworthy for contrasting the boldness of social dance with the buttoned-up societal mores of Japan, where people avoid public displays of emotion. Even in Japan, the joy of dance is irresistible." (text taken from Amazon)
ReviewsPlease login to review this resource
Shall We Dance?
Middle School 6-8
Sacred Heart Elementary School
“Shall We Dance?” tells the story of Mr. Sugiyama - a middle-aged man with a fairly stable and unremarkable family life. While riding the train home from work, he is captivated by a beautiful dance instructor he glimpses through the window of a dance studio. He enrolls in a dance class, hoping to meet the young woman, but instead winds up in a class full of misfits. During his time there, he is completely transformed. His enthusiasm extends to the beautiful instructor that first caught his eye and helps to reignite her own passion for ballroom dancing.
While I’m not sure I would use this movie in a middle school classroom (I think it is better suited for high school students), it does provide a compelling glimpse into Japanese culture. The protagonist, Mr. Sugiyama, is a serious businessman who works long hours, and does not return home until late at night. His life seems to revolve entirely around his job as an accountant, and he also seems dissatisfied with his roles as husband and father. He falls into the category of a “salaryman” - a white- collar worker who is expected to work long hours and value company loyalty above all else. Within this cultural context, Mr. Sugiyama’s act of boldly stepping out of his comfort zone, and outside of what society expects of him, is very affecting. This same theme is developed through the character of Aoki, another “salaryman” taking dance lessons, who feels the need to adopt an outlandish Latin dancer persona (complete with crazy wig) in order to hide his real identity. When his disguise is discovered, he is mocked by his colleagues and Aoki’s reaction is one of real anguish. I think this provides an excellent opportunity for students to compare and contrast what is valued and encouraged in Japanese culture (uniformity and duty) versus what is valued and encouraged in Western culture (individualism and self-expression). It may also be worthwhile for students to compare and contrast this film with the American remake, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. It would be interesting to hear they take on how the story translates into an American context.
Another interesting aspect of Japanese culture that this film brings to the foreground is the relationships between men and women. The movie begins with a voiceover stating that couples do not go out arm in arm or even say I love you out loud. This is very different from the norm in Western nations. This could lead to an interesting class discussion of gender roles within Japanese society. Overall, this was a lovely film that gives some insight into a society that can seem in stark contrast to our own. As mentioned above, I think this film is best suited for high school students.
Middle School history teacher's review of film _Shall We Dance?_
Grade 6 History Teacher (World Geography and Culture: Eastern Hemisphere)
Shall We Dance? is a contemporary Japanese film, which follows the mid-life crisis of Japanese business man Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho). After years of toil, Sugiyama has finally achieved his goal of owing his own home. Yet, he finds himself drowning in long work days to make his mortgage payment. On his way home each night, he glimpses from his train to see Mai Kishikawa (Tamiyo Kusakari) looking forlorn, out the window of Kishikawa Dance Studio. Though reluctant and ashamed to bend the social norms, Sugiyama is literally pushed into the studio and settles for the group classes, because he cannot afford the one-to-one lessons he wants with Mai. Sugiyama joins a group of middle-aged men, each seeking their own enlightenment; the group includes his colleague Tomio Aoki (Naoto Takenaka), whose happiness is contingent on the bad-wigged, overly-dramatic Latin persona of Donny Burns. Sugiyama throws himself into the underground dancing world, transforming himself into a competitive dancer, while keeping his new hobby a secret. Eventually, Sugiyama’s wife hires a private investigator and discovers how he has been spending his time. The question remains whether, in Japanese society, it is worse to be caught lying to your wife, or dancing.
This film is most appropriate for high school-aged students, though excerpts could be used with middle school students (there are no inappropriate scenes for middle school aged learners, though the pace and emotional depth of the story may be too complex for them). For high school students, it could be used in its entirety, in excerpts, or in conjunction with the American version of the film (with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon). The film would serve as a complement to the study of current Japanese society, though could not stand alone as the center of a unit (reason for 4 stars, rather than 5). The concept of social boundaries is an interesting one to develop with students, as the entire script is contingent upon the fact that public displays of affection (i.e. ballroom dancing) is taboo in Japanese society. It would be interesting for students to analyze how the story line is adapted for the American version, since dancing is an acceptable and encouraged social outlet for Americans of all ages. It was fascinating to observe how dancing is treated in Japan; it was only acceptable as a medical prescription—not as a voluntary recreational activity. One of Sugiyama’s classmates is overweight, due to diabetes. It’s clear that his stature is unusual and that there must be a medical explanation for someone to be so large; it also points to the importance of health and diet in Japanese culture. Another theme to pursue is the ethos surrounding work and family. Sugiyama’s obligations and the importance of owning a home, represent the Japanese constructs of commitment and hierarchy, in addition to the great value attached to space.
Review of Shall We Dance?
Review by Tim Jekel
A business man stuck in the doldrums of middle life, a mortgage, a job, and a family is drawn by the lure of a beautiful woman he sees in the window of the dance studio. Originally dancing to lure the dancer, eventually dancing to dance, he discovers the joy of dance. It is a romantic story, and there is nothing objectionable for high-school students, but many of the themes are more appropriate for an adult audience.
The film provides good glimpses into daily life in Japan--at the office, at home, and in social situations. It also shows how many of the issues we deal with in the United States are issues in Japan, East Asia, and indeed in the world. Viewers who enjoy dancing would get the most from it, but the story is strong enough to appeal to anyone.