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NewCityNet Shall We Dance?

A renting recommendation: "Shall We Dance?"

By Ray Pride

MAY 18, 1998: 

Not quite predictable, deadpan goofy, blissfully naive and genuinely sweet, "Shall We Dance" is a treat. Masayuki Suo's movie starts with the feel of cliché in motion, heightened only by a sense of being a "Hello Kitty" edition of Jacques Tati, where merely pointing a camera at a cryptic urban wonderland like Tokyo's allows so much to be read into the story. Shohei (Koji Yakusho) is a stiff-lipped accountant, the embodiment of Japan's long-suffering "salaryman" who works to fulfill the expectations of others. "There's nothing to like or dislike," he says early on of work, "It's my job." Taking the train from the city to the suburbs each evening to his hunched square of a house and small green patch of lawn and tiny red car that suggests a sewing machine more than horsepower, Shohei's face is blank. Stopped at a station one evening, he looks up into the neon of night and spies a melancholy face, a doe-eyed slip of a woman staring out a window into fathomless distance. Charmed. Another night. Fascinated. Finally, he gathers the nerve to climb the stairs of the building, where he discovers that the woman teaches ballroom dancing. She is Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari), a dancer who looks down on those she teaches. He joins, watching her from a distance as he becomes as obsessed with the tango and waltz, the fast-step and the rumba, as he is with her mysterious form. The teachers and classmates are all types-a word I use to suggest keenly acted stereotypes-yet the predictability of some situations and jokes is leavened by charm and compassion. Shohei also discovers that he shares a secret with his eccentric office co-worker, Mr. Aoki. Naoto Takenaka gives a comic performance of such utter grotesquerie, charm and heart that the jaw drops.

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