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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
by Betty Jo Tucker

Even American moviegoers who usually avoid foreign language films should put Shall We Dance? on their must-see lists. Focusing on a hard-working Japanese businessman’s secret efforts to learn ballroom dancing, this movie treasure gloriously celebrates the universal importance of hope, persistence, passion, and making the right moves.

"In Japan, we’re bad at listening to our own desires and we’re not good at expressing our emotions," declared the film’s writer/director, Masayuki Suo (through his translator) during an interview in San Diego. "Work is everything to us, so I wanted this film to help us listen to our desires and enjoy our lives," he added.

As if to prove this point, the gifted filmmaker, impeccably dressed in a stylish burgundy suit and silk shirt, directed and videotaped our entire interview. He even mildly shouted "Action!" at the beginning of the session. (Okay. I confess to persuading him.)

Responding to my compliment about the impressive performances of his wonderful ensemble cast, Suo stated that he made certain each actor took from fifty to one hundred hours of ballroom dancing prior to filming. This helped give the dance scenes their charming believability. Explaining why physical movement plays such a significant role in each of his movies, Suo said, "I think we are so divorced from physical activity today. For example, in the past we washed clothes with our hands, then hung them out to dry using very specific movements. Now, we push buttons. My other two films – one about a priest and the other about students wanting to be Sumo wrestlers – also focused on perfecting physical movements. The ballroom dancing in Shall We Dance? represents another way to integrate our need for physical movement in a social context."

Suo has filled his latest film with down-to-earth humor, unforgettable characters, and the kind of dancing that makes each member of the audience think, "I can do that!" In fact, ballroom dancing increased significantly in Japan after this movie opened, in spite of extreme Japanese shyness about men and women, even husband and wife, dancing together.

According to Suo, Shall We Dance? grossed $32 million in Japan, which is quite surprising for anything other than Godzilla-type movies. At the time of Suo's interview, the United States was the only Western country to receive this entertaining comedy on the big screen. Now it's available on video for everyone to enjoy. Don't miss it.

(Released with English subtitles by Miramax and rated "PG-13" for mild language.)

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