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Shall We Dance

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The first time this movie was watched was on an SQ flight to USA. It was watched not once but 3 times on the flight there and another 2 times on the flight back to Singapore. Multiply that by two persons and the grand total of 10 times re-runs were what you get!

We were at the peak of our "dance fever" stage and could not believe our luck in being able to catch a dance related movie on a boring long flight half way across the world. Ecstatic could not describe the feeling but the number of re-watches can. Watched it through meals, watched it while others were taking a nap trying to catch up on jet-lag, watched it while others were queuing for washrooms, watch it while our feet swell to balloon sizes and dreamt of it when at last we dropped into exhausted naps.

Shall We Dance was last year's smash hit in Japan. The in-flight movie was in its original Japanese form with English subtitles. Even with the language gap, we were able to laugh and cry with the character and plots. It was a great revelation that regardless of race, language or religion, dance enthusiasts from all over the world experience the same yearnings and heart aches.

Mr. Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusyo) your normal perfect married office working man (an Accountant) stuck in a daily routine of 5:30am alarm, bowl of rice, bicycle ride to train station, catch train to work, back home, give daughter a peck on cheek, sleep and starting all over again daily. During his daily train rides, he passes by Kishikawe School of Dancing and chanced upon a glimpse of the beautiful dance instructress, Mai Kishikawa (Tamiyo Kusakari), staring wistfully out of the studio window.

Wanting to do something different for a change, he joined the dance school in the evening to satisfy his infatuation with Mai. His tentative advances towards Mai was spurned and he danced very stiffly, like a robot as with all beginners. Listening to Mai, he agreed to partner with the equally middle-aged Toyoko and entered the East Japan Ballroom Contest.

Ms Toyoko Takahashi (Eriko Watanabe) was both a Latin and ballroom dancer, a very determined lady who poured all her life savings and energy into dance competitions. She was very intent in competing in both categories and winning them. Persuaded by Mai, Toyoko agreed to partner with the stiff Sugiyama.

A few dance practices later, everyone agreed that Sugiyama should only try for the Ballroom event. He became entranced and obsessed with ballroom dancing and even deployed waltze-like steps in entering his office. At first, his colleagues laughed at him when they knew he was into dancing but later, were so influenced that they ended up practicing waltz basics in the gents from him!

In between, Mai the instructress recounted how she lost the chance to enter the UK Blackpool Modern Final due to a terrible collision suffered during the semi-finals that knocked her unconscious. This scene was most probably shot in the real Blackpool Ballroom and Mai and the world famous partner were certainly of Professional Modern dancing level. Her dance partner never forgave her and subsequently left for another lady partner. Mai had lived with this regret ever since and had always wanted to try again in Blackpool with another male dance partner.

Mr. Tomio Aoki (Naoto Takenaka) was another caricature character who tried very hard to emulate the great 11 times world Latin champion Donnie Burns. Aoki's dance moves/techniques were very wild, crazy and exaggerated and he even created much laughter by wearing a Donnie Burns look-alike hair wig during the same competition.

Another of Mai's student, the overweight Mr Tanaka who was forever uncoordinated and was ridiculed by Toyoko as "too fat" therefore cannot dance and refused to partner him in Latin. Tanaka turned out to be the black horse as all those ridicules spurred him to practice harder and he became a champion in the lower dance Latin event.

Meanwhile, Sugiyama's wife suspected he was having an affair due to the many late nights he claimed working. Sugiyama and Toyoko were progressing through the heats and semifinals superbly when he suddenly spotted His wife on the audience seats with his daughter. This caused Sugiyama to lose his footing during the final and stepped onto Toyoko's ballgown, stripping her to a body suit in the middle of the competition floor. Embarrassed, she fled the floor thereby forfeiting their chance of being crowned champions.

What happened in the end? Go watch the movie.

This is a very charming, convivial, hilarious, feel good movie that every dance enthusiasts can relate to. Not only does it explores the dancing heart aches, it also explores the struggle for freedom from the suffocating repression and stifling repetition that one experiences during middle age or in a closed society.

This article was published on Monday 01 September, 1997.
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