Masayuki Suo's SHALL WE DANCE
A ballroom dancing class can be filled by a lot of different types of people - young and old, fat and thin, all different colors, sizes, and shapes. Many of the men are there because their women want them to be. It seems it's the same in Japan as it is in the U.S.
Just as with the main character in this Japanese movie (the middle aged executive who is bored to tears with his job, his mortgage, and his life) was attracted to dancing, I experienced a growing attraction to dancing as I gained confidence and experience while taking ballroom dancing classes over a period of 18 months. Despite my initial white-guy lead-foot movements, over time I began to enjoy it and even participated in a small competition where I danced in front of others. When my wife and I attended a formal fundraiser and were able to stay out on the dance floor all night while a live band played, we felt quite proud of ourselves.
So I appreciated the attraction between the movie's characters and ballroom dancing. A cultural difference shown by this movie, according to the introductory text on the screen, is that the "forced intimacy" required between men and women by ballroom dancing is culturally frowned upon in Japan. Also, a major part of the story involves how the man deceives his wife by never telling her why he is late coming home a couple of times a week -- she thinks he's out drinking with his buddies after work or having an affair. He's actually out taking ballroom dancing lessons and instinctively hides this from his wife, initially because he thinks he's attracted to his dance instructor.
The main chracter in this film, the businesssman, is played by Kôji Yakusho, who also played Nobu in Memoirs of a Geisha.
Cultural differences aside, this movie's combination of comedy, drama, and just plain sweetness is unique. Individual characters and why they come every week as student or instructor to the dance studio are well drawn. Everyone has a story. There is a lot of humor, sadness, drama, silliness, and affection to go around. And of course there are dance competitions, some small, some grand. There is even a reference to the dance between Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in THE KING AND I that I found to be quite affecting.
This movie is a touching example of how movies can show us different cultures in ways that not only entertain but enlighten. It also makes me want to dust off my dancing shoes!