*Note: This thread is part of a Son of the SDMB Musicals Group discussion. *
This film is completely different from the other musicals we’ve discussed, and not just because it’s subtitled.
In it, the movie begins with the protagonist not only not knowing how to dance, but not knowing that he wants to learn. For the first half of the movie, we watch him learning – and learn, ourselves, that it takes time and doesn’t necessarily come naturally. (The only other similar movie portrayal I can think of is the montage in Footloose during which Kevin Bacon teaches the rhythm-challenged Chris Penn how to dance. Are there others?) We also find him discovering that the yearning for “something else” that initially triggers his foray into the studio isn’t, in fact, Mai herself, but the world that Mai – indirectly, as it turns out – gives him access to: the world of self-expression, of a physical freedom that somehow makes up for the social and economic constraints he lives within.
And he learns to accept that he wants that freedom, which is the final struggle in the film.
I can’t stress enough how much I love the “real people dancing” element of this film. Other than a few glimpses in Mai’s Blackpool flashback, we really don’t see a whole lot of professional-level dancing; instead, it’s ordinary people who practice hard and become … okay … at it, some of them fairly good, but they’re all people who have ordinary lives and do this in addition to, and not instead of, living those lives – who do it because they love it, and nothing else.
I love that the fat guy found a partner and put on that absurd shirt and tie and participated in the rumba competition, and that he clearly had a ball doing it.
I love that Aoki learned – well, began to learn, anyway – to accept himself.
I love that whatshisface, the protagonist, loved his wife, and that she loved him, and that he’s going to teach her to dance.
I love that the older female teacher keeps the joy of the experience in her heart.
And most of all I love the respect that the director treated the ballroom dancers with. The movie I was most reminded of was Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (which predates Shall We Dance? by three years) – but that film has a tendency to go for the easy mockery at times, though they both end with the same image, that of a ballroom full of people dancing because they love to dance.
All in all, a delightful film – and one I’m not ashamed to admit got me a wee bit misty at the end.
Plus, it had some great moments of humor – the scene where whatshisface and Aoki are in the men’s room practicing a hold, and Aoki pretends to have had a seizure when the other guys come in, for one, and the detective sitting up at the top of the bleachers at the competition holding forth surprisingly knowledgeably on ballroom dancing, for another.
The one thing I was wondering about as I was watching, was how well it would Westernize. The most fundamental plot point was the scandalousness of ballroom dancing per se in Japanese culture. Did Richard Gere exhibit that level of shame – or any shame at all – in the remake? Has anyone seen the remake?