Shall We Dance? (Japanese Version)

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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Kôji Yakusho as Shohei Sugiyama
Tamiyo Kusakari as Mai Kishikawa
Naoto Takenaka as Tomio Aoki
Eriko Watanabe as Toyoko Takahashi
Yu Tokui as Tokichi Hattori
Hiromasa Taguchi as Masahiro Tanaka
Reiko Kusamura as Tamako Tamura
Hideko Hara as Masako Sugiyama
Hiroshi Miyasaka as Macho
Kunihiko Ida as Teiji Kaneko
Amie Toujou as Hisako Honda
Ayano Nakamura as Chikage Sugiyama
Katsunari Mineno as Keiri-kachô
Tomiko Ishii as Haruko Haraguchi
Maki Kawamura as Eiko Miyoshi

Special Features:
A Look Inside Hollywood’s Shall We Dance? Theatrical Release Starring Richard Gere And Jennifer Lopez

Other Info:
Widescreen 1.85:1
Dolby Digital Surround Sound
Original Japanese Language Track
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 119 Minutes

Synopsis:
This film was originally released in Japan in 1996 under the name “Shall We Dansu?”. Here’s the text from the DVD cover:

“Here’s the irresistible comedy treat that had critics and audiences cheering all across America … and inspired the new Hollywood hit starring Richard Gere (Chicago), Jennifer Lopez (Maid in Manhattan), and Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking). A middle-aged workaholic’s incredibly dull life takes a funny turn when he signs up for a ballroom dance class — just to meet the sexy dance teacher. But when he finally muscles up the nerve for lessons he winds up with a different instructor and her colorfully eccentric class of beginners! And now he’ll have to step lightly — and do some fancy footwork — if he expects to keep his new secret passion from his family and friends! You’ll love every minute of this crowd-pleasing motion picture!”

Shall We Dance is rated PG-13 for mild language.

The Movie:
I happened to get this Japanese version of “Shall We Dance” on the same day as the recent American version. I decided to watch the original first and I’m glad I did. It gave me a fresher perspective on the remake and it helped me realize the differences between the two versions.

The two movies are almost identical in plot, characters, and dialogue. Where they depart is that this original version is a great snapshot of Japanese culture. It also highlights the taboos of affection and contact in public. That’s what makes Shohei Sugiyama’s decision to step into the world of ballroom dancing all the more remarkable and out of character for him. His voyage of self discovery is all the more brave and dramatic in this original version.

The other major difference is that this version has much sillier characters than the American one. The fellow who plays the flamboyant co-worker of Shohei is much more cartoonish than Stanley Tucci’s version (if you can believe it). The other students in the class were geekier as well. But those differences aside, both versions bring together a colorful cast of characters to create an oddball family that certainly seems genuine. Each of them becomes better, happier, and more confident because of their experiences while learning to dance. That’s ultimately what makes the films so satisfying.

I thought the American version was better in a couple of respects, though. The music is better, but you can chalk that up to the fact that there is an 8 year difference in the films. The cinematography of the 2004 film is also a little better. Finally, I thought the American version did a better job of emphasizing the rekindled romance between Shohei’s character and his wife. It made the film much more of a romance.

While I think the 2004 version is going to be much more accessible to Western audiences, this version is quite entertaining on its own. If you’re interested in a romantic comedy that gives you a unique view at a different culture, then this will fit the bill. And if you’ve already seen the American remake of Shall We Dance, then you may want to see what started it all.

The Extras:
The only bonus feature on this DVD is a “making of” feature from the American remake of Shall We Dance. (In fact, it’s the same featurette that’s on the remake DVD.) It’s your standard extra featuring behind the scenes footage, interviews with cast and crew, and more.

The Bottom Line:
If you liked the American remake of Shall We Dance, then you’ll probably find this Japanese version well worth checking out. It’s a fun romantic comedy that gives you a new look at Japanese culture.

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