Action / Adventure, Comedy, Films, Japan, Musical, Recommended posts, Reviews, Road Trip

Dance with Me

3 stars

ダンスウィズミー, DansuWizu Mi. Japan 2019. Directed by Shinobu Yaguchi. Starring Ayaka Miyoshi, Yu Yashiro, Chay, Takahiro Miura, Tsuyoshi Muro, Akira Takarada. 103 mins. In Japanese with English subtitles.

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A bewitched musical actress set off on a journey to break the spell that binds her…

“Why do some people like to watch musicals?” wonders Shizuka (Ayaka Miyoshi), a discreet, kempt and industrious Japanese office lady working at a well-established financial company in Tokyo.

She exudes the air of professionalism and cautiousness typical of the Japanese “salaryman” and seems the least likely to let herself loose. “Isn’t it nutty that the musical actors swing their bodies and belt out songs out of the blue?” she reasons. However, after getting entranced into believing that she was born a diva by a charlatan hypnotist, Shizuka cannot help but turn into a boisterous, assertive, untameable musical lead dancing to the beat. In order to break the spell and revert back to a normal life, Shizuka needs to chase down the hypnotist and thus has many strange yet hilarious encounters on a wild road trip through the Japanese countryside.

A breezy blend of musical, road trip and comedy, Dance with Me depicts the story of a woman discovering a talent (for musicals) she initially abhors. Director Shinobu Yaguchi conceived the idea after seeing many foreign musicals. As he pointed out in a recent interview, Japanese audiences generally find bursting into song and dance very strange, and by making this film he hoped to cross this barrier. However, Yaguchi believes that he is tweaking typical musicals by giving Dance with Me an “anti-musical” musical element. Instead of smoothing the plot or helping to reveal the innermost feelings and thoughts of the protagonists, the musical parts often invite trouble for the leads, and could well leave audiences wondering if they are indeed watching a musical at all.

On a scale of 0 to 5, I would give Dance with Me three stars for the satisfactory acting alone. The sheer enthusiasm and liveliness lead Miyoshi radiates when Shizuka loses herself in dance is contagious, and at points it may even make you want to sing along. However, speaking from experience (as a connoisseur of stage musicals and those of Hollywood and Bollywood), I would say the plot is loose and could have been spiced up. Sure, the film is intended to be funny and light-hearted, but that should not come at the cost of not fully exploring the relationship tensions. For example, Shizuka seems to have nurtured a crush on a charismatic male superior who uses his charms to have the female clerks work on extra tasks, but in the end she gets over these feelings. The plot could be significantly more hilarious (at least for me) if the superior was, say, teased by Shizuka dancing around him and pulling off his pretensions, yet the actual film only brushes off the problem by having Shizuka turn down a job promotion. In addition, the symbiotic relationship between the elderly hypnotist and his middle-aged female accomplice deserves closer examination. In the film, they con people into paying for their non-existent hypnotizing magic, but it would be fun to see how this rare success on Shizuka makes them legitimate hypnotists, able to peddle their tricks and enjoy a greater extent of fame.

Unsure of whether to accept a job promotion, despite not finding genuine passion in it, Shizuka can confidently walk away from the winners’ career path (kachigumi) at the end of the film knowing that she has a discovered, proven and inalienable talent for musicals. This might be the biggest takeaway, apart from much-needed, stress-relieving laughter the film surely provides. Personally, it presents a cheerful (though unlikely) alternative to the monotonous, depressing office life of forever being confined in a cubicle and tempered by corporate rules. Just like Shizuka, people might have some undiscovered talent and unkindled passion. Hypnotize yourself, be open to suggestions and you might just stumble upon your real gift.

Dance with Me screened online as part of Udine Far East Film Festival 2020, which ran from 26 June to 4 July.

Fan Hong is a member of the #FEFF22 Campus 2020. The campus is run each year, allowing young journalists from all over the world to cover the festival. You can find out more about the campus here.

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Fan HongFan Hong Fan Hong
Fan Hong, Chinese by passport, world citizen by heart, currently based in Tokyo.
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