There is a wonderful simplicity to the movie. It rarely comes across as extreme or overwrought. The director, for example, does not include any moments of terrible misery or of screeching confrontations. He does not even allow the viewer to see any character as entirely heroic or entirely unlikeable. Everyone in the film is a mixture of flaws and virtues. Instead of concocting a simplistic scenario, or one filled with melodramatic battles, he reveals an ordinary world that is as profound as the most baroque realm of betrayal, vengeance, and howling victims.
Happily, the protagonist is as well delineated as his story is. He is a quiet, unremarkable man who, perhaps bored with his ordinary life, is looking for something new. At first, this search takes the shape of an infatuation with Mai, but, over time, it is transformed into a love affair with dancing. Throughout his depiction of Shohei's life, Suo never judges his protagonist for his attraction to Mai or for his sneaking out to take dance lessons. Nor does the director present the man's family in an unflattering light. Both the wife and daughter are pleasant individuals. There is no struggle here between a hero and a villain. There is only a simple tale of an average human being that allows the viewer to experience Shohei's vague dissatisfaction with his existence. Somehow, this feeling, while not easy for the hero to articulate, is far more affecting than a histrionic tragedy would probably have been.
There are, in fact, numerous appealing scenes scattered throughout the film. Shohei's awkward early efforts at dancing, his uncomfortable attempts to do so at a party, and his increasing enthusiasm for dancing, which he expresses by wiggling his feet under his desk at work, practicing under a bridge and on a train platform, and his joining a competition are genuinely delightful. What is more, his adventures, though the focus of the movie, are not the only ones that are enjoyable to watch.
The activities of the supporting characters consistently add life to the central story. The director reveals a belligerent middle-aged woman whose life revolves around the moments she is able to dance, an eccentric and generally disliked colleague of Shohei who is equally in love with dancing, though he always does so wearing an outrageous wig and making ridiculously exaggerated moves that seem to disturb his partners, and an overweight man who took up dancing to lose weight, but who discovers in it a joy he has not found anywhere else.
Oddly, Mai's story, though in many ways more important than are these others, is not as well developed. It is revealed in some detail towards the end of the movie, but it is vaguely maudlin and somewhat contrived. That said, the director is still able to give the viewer a glimpse of the woman's dreams, shortcomings, and disappointments.
Lastly, I should add that all the leads acquit themselves well. None give into the histrionics that so many people seem to mistake for good acting. Instead, they come across as believable individuals. As a result, the moviegoer is easily able to feel their joys and their sorrows with a real immediacy. Although I will concede that a few of the supporting characters do verge on being caricatures, they are somehow given enough life by the actors playing them that not only are they not distracting, but the viewer is actually likely to find himself engaged with them.
While Shall We Dance? is certainly not a great film, it is a touching and enjoyable one. It is well worth watching.
Review by Keith Allen
© 2006 firstname.lastname@example.org Keith Allen. All rights reserved.