The film “Shall We Dance? ” by Japanese director Masayuki Suo is an important example of the cultural shift in Japan. Because of the film, the Western tradition of ballroom dancing was popularized in the former rigid and formal society of the Japanese. Western culture has found a home in modern Japan. “Shall We Dance? ” helped with the transformation of Japan from the rigid routines and beliefs to a more relaxed and carefree environment.
In understanding this transformation, it is important to realize the type of culture the Japanese enjoyed before the film’s release and what the Japanese culture is like now, after the film opened the eyes of many Japanese men and women. According to the Japan Ballroom Dance Federation, in Japan ballroom dancing first became popular in 1868. Beginning in 1912, several ballrooms opened in major cities. However, ballroom dancing was soon associated with adult entertainment such as strip shows and in 1925, children were prohibited by law from entering ballrooms or dance studios.
The image of ballroom dancing began to improve when dance competitions began to be held after World War II. Since then, ballroom dancing was accepted by some, however, most Japanese men and women frown upon it. Ballroom dancing’s image improved even more with the release of “Shall We Dance? ”. Following the success of the film and television shows featuring celebrities ballroom dancing, the law about children and dance was revised in 1998 to exempt dance studios. (Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri) It is clear that the Japanese have always had a formal, rigid and structured culture.
Marriages were arranged and couples, even when married, found it shameful and embarrassing to even hold hands in public. From the beginning of the film, this thought was put into the viewer’s mind with the quote: “In a country where married couples don’t go out arm in arm, much less say ‘I love you’ out loud, intuitive understanding is everything. The idea that a husband and wife should embrace and dance in front of others is beyond embarrassing. ” (First Scene, “Shall We Dance? ”) Even as the viewer is introduced to Mr. Sugiyama, the main character, it is clear that he is embarrassed to step foot into the dance studio.
As the story progresses, Sugiyama is even embarrassed to tell his wife that he is taking ballroom dancing lessons. He keeps it a secret from her until she finds out herself through a private detective. The film speaks to the cultural shift of the Japanese. At the beginning of the film, Sugiyama was embarrassed to be taking dance lessons. At first, he would not even admit it to himself that he actually wanted to dance. He convinced himself it was only because of the attractive dance instructor, Mai, that he was taking lessons. It was not until Sugiyama realized that one of his co-workers, Mr.
Aoki, was taking lessons at the same dance studio that Sugiyama began to loosen up and enjoy the dancing. Still, Sugiyama kept his dancing from his family. He was still embarrassed even though he liked dancing. The real turning point in the film was when Sugiyama was at work, and a group of his co-workers were making fun of Mr. Aoki for ballroom dancing. Sugiyama stood up for Mr. Aoki, telling his co-workers that if they have never tried ballroom dancing, they should not say anything bad about the dancing or anyone who practices it. When Sugiyama found out that his wife knew about his dancing, he quit his lessons.
Even his dancing partner could not get him back into dancing. It was not until Sugiyama’s daughter insisted that he teach his wife how to dance that Sugiyama realized that he still loved ballroom dancing. He finally accepted his love of dancing when he attended Mai’s farewell party and danced the last dance with her. This transformation of Mr. Sugiyama is symbolic of the transformation of the country of Japan from structured and formal to relaxed and fun-loving. Being so close to the opposite sex, as is required when ballroom dancing, was looked down upon in Japanese culture.
It was shameful and embarrassing. The formal lifestyle and the embarrassment and shame for dancing in Japan has been beginning to change for the past decade or so. Younger Japanese professionals have become fascinated with Western culture and by the glamour of Hollywood. However, a young generation is usually accepting of a new way of life. The exceptionally interesting shift was when the middle-aged Japanese public began to become attracted to ballroom dancing. (Business Wire) This was evident in “Shall We Dance? ”. Mr. Sugiyama was in his early forties when he discovered the joy of ballroom dancing.
He was a typical citizen; he had a wife and child and had just bought a house that he had worked hard for. It must be admitted that, at first, Mr. Sugiyama was not at all interested in dancing, but in the young and attractive dance instructor. However, when Mai accused him of only taking lessons to get to her, Sugiyama decided to continue taking lessons, regaining some of his honor. After a while, he began to enjoy ballroom dancing. It breathed a breath of life back into the monotony of having a family and being an accountant.