On its release it was the most financially successful foreign language
film ever released in the US and was one of the most genuinely
enjoyable 'audience pictures' to emerge from Japan in
years. Though known as Shall We Dance? in
the west, the correct title is actually Shall We Dansu?. 'Dansu' is the Japanese reading of the word 'Dance',
and is written with 'Shall We' in English and 'Dansu'
in katakana (a Japanese written language reserved for non-native words), reflecting the multicultural element of a very
Japanese story whose climax, rather thrillingly for is UK audience, takes place in Blackpool. It played spectacularly well to the capacity audience who showed up for our cinema screening back in 1998. So why
oh why has it taken so long to make it to DVD? More to the
point, why is being released now? Well it's all a matter of
is not nowadays known for its originality of ideas, and is
always on the lookout for acclaimed or – better – financially
successful foreign language films to steal from or simply
remake. Shall We Dansu? did very big business
for a small Japanese movie (almost $10 million) and
Hollywood ain't gonna ignore that. Even better, it's a feel-good
movie, a love story, a tale of a man escaping his hum-drum
daily life through dance and triumphing over his own sense
of shame and embarrassment. Oh wow, too good to be true. All
we need to do is jazz it up and replace all those unknown
foreign faces with bankable American ones, and have them speak
English so the moronic majority don't have to read subtitles!
this inevitable Hollywood remake was first announced, every
fan of the film I know just groaned and held their heads in
despair. Two factors made it even worse – it was to star Tom
Hanks (oh no) and the title was to be changed from Shall
We Dance? to Shall We Dance!.
It's a little thing, that exclamation mark, but it speaks
volumes about the film-makers' intentions. No hesitance here,
let's dance baby! We could almost visualise the glint
on Hanks' pearly-whites and hear the accompanying 'ping' as
he flashes them at the audience.
there's another problem here. The story of Shall We
Dansu? was always a culturally based one, that of a company man who keeps his dance lessons secret
because of the potential embarrassment of being a man in what
is still perceived as a woman's world. This works fine in the context
of a still largely patriarchal society like Japan, but just
does not wash in a country whose cinematic icons include Fred
Astaire and Gene Kelly and where the film and TV series Fame were such enormous hits. This would thus mean changing one of key
narrative features of the story, and any big star would inevitably
bring their own agenda to the film ("I think my character
should be more..."), changing it to such a degree that there
seems little point in paying for the remake rights – why not
just make your own movie?
brings us to promotion. The prime motivation behind the average Hollywood
release is to make money. I'm not going to get all superior
here – this has to be a concern of anyone funding a movie,
as they cost a lot to make and if you've invested millions in a project you'd kind of like to see
your investment show at least some return, and that will go for the film industry of pretty much any country you care to name.
But nowhere is the concern higher than in Hollywood, where
the budgets are largest and films are judged less by their
artistic merit than by how much they make in that opening
weekend. And if you're going to release a Tom Hanks movie
about ballroom dancing then you are going to want some kind
of assurance that the many millions you are going to spend
on a remake of what that relatively low budget original are going
to be recouped. Well you've got Tom Hanks, and he has major
box office appeal, but still, ballroom dancing? Will people
go for that? But hey, it's a remake of the most commercially
successful foreign language film ever to play in the US!
Even if people didn't see it – and as it had subtitles, most
wouldn't have – they will surely have heard of it, read about
it, seen the trailers, met someone who loved it. It's a successful,
familiar label just waiting for the right American package
to stick it on. And here it is.
that it didn't happen. Something went wrong, someone changed
their mind, who knows, but the project was shelved. Temporarily.
And now we stand just months away from Mirimax's second stab
at a US remake, one that looks on course for completion and
release. No Tom Hanks this time, but even better, they've
got Richard Gere, reinvented as a song-and-dance man after
the huge financial success of the musical Chicago,
and Jennifer Lopez, a successful singer and movie star much
beloved of the paparazzi. With that sort of wallop, who needs
to trade on the original any more, but just in case, a DVD
release would put the title back on the shelves or the New
Release pages of on-line stores and remind us of this warm,
enchanting film, so that the brand name becomes familiar again
before the new, larger, no doubt brasher American remake's pre-publicity machine kicks in.
the new version is out, the original will no doubt become a distant
memory to all but its devoted fans, another great film swallowed
up by the Hollywood Remake Machine. Again I am irresistibly
reminded of Invasion of the Body Snatchers – when the humans are replaced, it's with a creature that
has the same look and voice as the original, with the added
polish of a physical perfection that the replaced victim could
only dream of. On the surface they appear to the untrained
eye to actually be superior, but they are fatally flawed in
one respect – they have no soul.