Businessman Shohei becomes entranced by the vision of a ballroom dancing teacher he sees teaching in her studio from his train and signs up for classes. His dancing and mood improves and this worries his wife...
Finding comic and heart-warming mileage in the most unlikely milieu - the world of Japanese ballroom dancing - Shall We Dance? emerges as an unadulterated joy. Comparisons to Strictly Ballroom will be inevitable, but Suo's film revels less in the glitzy, sequinned tack and more in the transformational qualities of dance, resulting in a perfectly poised mixture of gentle humour and feelgood sentiment.
Teetering on the verge of a mid-life crisis, married businessman Shohei (a dignified, eminently likeable Yakusyo) becomes fixated by a beautiful woman he glimpses at a dance studio window every night on his train journey home. Secretly enrolling in a beginners class to get close to his mystery woman - aloof instructor Mai (Kusakari) - he gradually discovers a delight in dancing and transforms into a ballroom ace, ready to take on the national championship. Yet his dreams seem threatened as his wife, noticing his happier demeanour, believes he is having an affair and puts a detective on his tail.
While there are (intentional) laughs to be had from the cheesy incongruity of Japanese folk foxtrotting, Suo's sensibility is a generous, sympathetic one, never poking fun at the aspirations of Shohei and his oddball classmates - such as Tomio (Takenata), Shohei's repressed co-office worker who, on the dance floor, turns into a fiery Latin love god, perfectly expressing the movie's funny but poignant tone.
Yet, the comedy is overlaid with an unashamedly old-fashioned romance: Shohei's journey from unhappy worker bee - the early scenes are cleverly sketched to show his mundane routine without ever themselves being boring - to rejuvenated free spirit is credible, actually earning the film's final emotional wallop. Irresistible.
Funny and poignant, this is entertainment in it's kindest and swishiest form.