The sweet Japanese movie, Shall We Dance? caught my attention for two reasons. First, after I saw it during its initial run in America, my Japanese friend told me that the American version had been cut to highlight the male protagonist instead of showing the couple's parallel journey. This year, after watching the Antonio Banderas flick, Take the Lead, a dancing friend commented that tango was the dance.
If you saw Take the Lead, or even vaguely remember the trailers, you'll remember the centerpiece dances were tango. In the movie, this is how the dance teacher lures the kids into learning ballroom. This wasn't the case in the documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, or Strictly Ballroom, although the later did use another Latin dance, Paso Doble, as the portal for the lead to learn the true heart and soul of dance. Other movies, such as Moulin Rouge, Chicago ,and Rent used tango to push the story forward, mainly to signify a conflicted, unhealthy relationship. Yet, I didn't recall tango used at all in the Japanese version of Shall We Dance?.
The Japanese movie is now available on DVD because of the Richard Gere movie. The DVD is disappointing because it features, not commentary by the Japanese director/writer Masayuki Suo or stars (Koji Yakusho who was recently in Memoirs of a Geisha and Babel or professional ballet dancer Tamiyo Kusakari), but clips from the American version.
Watching the Japanese version again, I saw there was tango - not as a dance, but as part of the soundtrack. No one is seen dancing the tango at all throughout the movie. The clips for the American version do feature segments from a tango, with subdued romantic lighting, danced mostly by Jennifer Lopez with Richard Gere looking on and probably not really leading the choreographed piece.
These are not the only differences between the two versions. In the 1996 Japanese version of Shall We Dance? a voiceover explains that in Japan men are not expected to entertain with their wives and dancing, face-to-face within an embrace, isn't part of traditional Japan. Ballroom dancing doesn't have the same polite society past in Japan that it does in American culture. Certainly, ballroom does not have the same kind of cultural respect that it does in Europe, particularly England. Blackpool, England is the most famous international competition and British universities have thriving, active and highly competitive ballroom dance teams.