Comparing “Shall We Dansu" and "Shall We Dance?": The Superior and the Inferior

I admit I’ve never seen either films, but I watched both one after the other leaving bias’ aside and judged them as separate entities while comparing them to see which one was better. Contradictory, sure, but shut up. Either way, both films are different in terms of their content. While “Shall we Dansu?” is a risqué film in Japan seeing as how human affection isn’t as casual or normal as anywhere else it, “Shall we Dance?” Is normal to the point of being bland. In the country where we watch people having sex on-screen, watching two people dance is nothing worth scoffing at. But in many films in Japan, characters fall in love without ever really kissing, so “Shall we Dansu?” ended up becoming the more original, and layered film.

But I haven’t judged it immediately because of that only. So, I decided to watch one film after the other, and sadly, the original is better. The original film has a certain quaintness to it, a certain degree of elegance, and whimsy that makes it superior. I didn’t judge the remake too harshly, that only happens when I have a precedence with the original. Both different films basically represent the sensibilities of both cultures. Koji Yakusho plays Shoghei Sugiyami a man living a life of monotony through his office business, and comes home to a basically monotonous home life. Every night while on the train home, he looks out on to the local dance school window where he sees the mysterious dance instructor looking out. He appears at the school and dances to get close to her, but soon he realizes he actually likes to dance. The sub plot here involves his wife attempting to discover what he does while he’s not at work afraid he’s having an affair.

Ultimately, Kôji Yakusho has more convincing humility than Gere, and he just gives an excellent performance here as the utterly humble and barely audible man who comes to dance as a basic whim, and then learns that its a true artform. At first he’s drawn to the dancer Mai, and who can blame him? But what’s great about the film is that it starts as a romance, and then forms in to a romance of dance. Tamiyo Kusakari is utterly gorgeous as Mai, the introverted and cold dancer with her own demons. Slowly she unfolds as a character, and she become a truly admirable catalyst for Koji’s love for dance. While Jennifer Lopez makes more sense with her elegance, it’s the fact we have an Asian woman doing tango that makes the Mai Kishikawa character original from the beginning. Meanwhile the original has much more poetry to it; Even the dances become characters.

Every move and every facial gesture is an expression of Koji’s uncertainty, and emotion while attempting to court Mai and then learning that he has potential for dance. “Shall we Dansu?” is sweet and elegant, and has some rather good writing with much character focus on the cast. Not a single person within the cast is left without some sort of back story thanks to rather good writing, and there is especially much focus on the character of Tamako who is a very sweet and charming guiding presence for the people in the school. The original ends on a very sweet note, and really will end up charming the female audience more so than the men, but it’s a very good film. The remake is basically eighty percent loyal to the original, and I expected some changes. The two characters that were recast in the American version was very pleasing. Lisa Ann Walter is the obvious replacement for Eriko Watanabe as the experienced dancer who is also crude, loud, and overbearing.

She’s probably the most clever casting in the remake. And Stanley Tucci is a very worthy replacement for Naoto Takenaka as the hilariously creepy Aoki who is now called Link. Though the original has its flaws, with a story that often meanders because of its numerous sub plots, I just couldn’t help but take issue at the remake. The original is so much more of a subtle practice in story telling basically exploring these characters instead of spelling them out, developing our main character, where as the remake needs to explain his character through narration. The original said this is a man who works at an office with no excitement to his life, where as the remake has to have the character explain to us that he works at an office with no excitement to his life. I have to refer back to Brian Cox in “Adaptation.” because there’s just no better way to put it than he did. Narration is nine times out of then the product of lack of imagination and lazy storytelling plain and simple.

Which is why I know now why Cox’ character felt so strongly about not using narration. Want to have a challenge? Write a story that doesn’t have its main character spelling things out. And the tune goes: “God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you. That’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character!” The film has zero pacing. It never settles down long enough for us to get to know and connect with these characters, and at only 106 minutes, it really rushes past the story, and subtext, and characterization. It also doesn’t spend enough time focusing on the monotony of the main character’s life, so he becomes an irrelevant man in his family seeking to get his rocks off by looking at a hot Hispanic woman in the dance school. And there are a lot of unnecessary plot devices added that had me basically scratching my head.

Why did Lopez’ character feel the need to work at the school if she was embarrassed about losing a dance competition? Why did the script have Sarandon flirting with her PI? Why did they feel the need to add an alcohol dependency to the woman who runs the school, and then suddenly discard it without explanation? It’s ridiculous. And Jennifer Lopez just isn’t convincing in her role as this dancer who feels  conflicted and shun. Instead here she comes off as whiny,self-centered, and as a prima Donna–wow, and who says art doesn’t imitate life?

Then she suddenly progresses in to this woman who is happy now with her life, and decides to get back in to dancing all in the snap of a finger. Wow. The charm is simply lost in the remake, and had I seen this movie without seeing the original, my analyses wouldn’t have been any different. And, as always, the original “Shall We Dansu?” even in its hacked up Miramax version, is infinitely better than the remake “Shall We Dance?” even with the benefit of the doubt and generosity displayed. The remake is loud, crude, and rushed, while the original is so much more the opposite as an elegant drama.