The 2004 remake of the 1996 Japanese movie Shall We Dance? follows the pattern of most remakes: it is not as good as the original. However, this version’s nice surprise is that it’s actually a pretty decent date movie as it stands by itself.
The remake of Shall We Dance almost scrupulously follows the plot of the original: John Clark (Richard Gere) is a successful businessman who is unhappy with his predictable life. He becomes fascinated by a beautiful woman, Paulina (Jennifer Lopez), who he sees staring forlornly out of the window of a dance school. He decides to try to meet her and gets roped into beginning ballroom dance lessons. He tries eventually to ask her out, she tells him to get lost, and he realizes that he still wants to dance.
His wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon) gets suspicious and hires a private detective to find out what he’s doing and she becomes perplexed when she finds out he’s taking dance lessons. In the meantime her husband is partnered with an obnoxious woman, Bobbie (Lisa Ann Walter), for a novice dance competition. He develops friendships with his fellow dancers including one who is a co-worker (Stanley Tucci), who hides his passion behind a silly wig and is afraid that people will think him gay.
The biggest differences, and the biggest problems, with the American remake are the cultural changes. The Japanese version shows that ballroom dancing is somewhat scandalous with the close contact while the American version shows that it is not considered masculine. While I thought Richard Gere did a decent job, his character was portrayed as a little restless and unhappy instead of being repressed like Koji Yakusho’s Mr. Sugiyama. Unfortunately, Yakusho's yearning, awkwardness, embarrassment, and then finally beautiful grace are missing from Gere’s John Clark (although Gere can certainly dance).
Jennifer Lopez’s icy, beautiful, and sorrowful Paulina is quite similar to her counterpart in the original Shall We Dance? . It’s too bad her reputation has eclipsed her acting because she really is worth watching. Susan Sarandon’s Beverly has more to do than in the original but that is because she’s Susan Sarandon. This change is one that I liked for the most part because we never really learn that much about Mrs. Sugiyama. The rest of the cast does a good job as an assortment of oddball characters, providing fairly standard comic relief. I still can’t decide if I like that they lifted the best jokes from the original movie or not, but they are amusing.
Someone put some care into this release on DVD, which is surprising because its box office grosses weren’t that strong. Perhaps Miramax hoped to pick up a larger audience with the DVD release. The movie showcases the DVD format fairly well. Any movie with music and dancing is going to scream to the audience to pay attention to the audio and visual values of the disc. Oddly enough I wasn’t as impressed with the values on this disc as I was with the original but I think this was because of the choices made by the director and cinematographer and not inherent to the DVDs themselves.
The extras are standard – a not very interesting director’s commentary, a making of featurette, deleted scenes that were rightly cut, and a short documentary on the history of ballroom dancing and dancing in America. The latter types of supplementary material featurettes are always welcome. The music video included is no big deal.
Shall We Dance? simply doesn’t have the depth of the original which is why it is not as good as the Japanese version. Nonetheless, it is a funny, entertaining if somewhat standard romantic movie that will appeal strongly to every woman who wishes she could get her husband on the dance floor (and perhaps vice versa). While it may not try to define the meaning of life like the original, it certainly showcases the freedom and joy of dancing. To the people who enjoyed the original I say don’t be too hard on this version because it has its own merits. To those who will see this version I’d like to suggest seeing the original as well. Both are worth your time.
Click here for Sandy Maynard's review of the Japanese original of Shall We Dance