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MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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This charming Japanese film about ballroom dancing won American hearts when it first hit our shores almost ten years ago. It opened with the following explanation:

“In Japan, ballroom dance is regarded with much suspicion. 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. However, to go out dancing with someone else would be misunderstood and prove more shameful. Nonetheless, even for Japanese people, there is a secret wonder about the joys that dance can bring.”

Fulfillment

Japan asked first: Shall We Dance?
Japan asked first: Shall We Dance?

The movie then introduces Mr. Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho), a Japanese businessman. He sold his soul to the company to earn enough for a house for his wife and daughter. With that accomplished, he realizes he is still unfulfilled.

Every day, at a certain stop on his train ride home, he sees the same girl gazing forlornly out the window of a dance studio. He becomes infatuated and, one day, gets the nerve to go to the studio for a closer look. Flustered, and unable to pay for private lessons with the girl in the window, he enrolls in a beginning dance class with two other students. Sugiyama is a below-average student, but his infatuation keeps him coming back every Wednesday.

After a few lessons, he gets up the nerve to ask Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari) out for dinner. She coldly tells him that she doesn’t date students — then adds that if he joined the class because of her, he should quit. Rather than admit his ulterior motive, he decides to stay in the class.

Without any hope of winning Mai’s affection, Sugiyama throws himself into his studies. Not only does his dancing improve, he begins to enjoy it more. For now, he has found another source of fulfillment. Soon he finds himself practicing dance steps on the train platform while he waits to go home.

At the apex of the story’s arch, Mai looks out her window and sees Sugiyama absentmindedly practicing his steps. This time he is the object of her glance, and she is the one who is moved. She sees that Sugiyama has found a simple joy in dance, which moves her to re-evaluate her own motives.

DVD Extras

This wonderful film is finally coming to DVD. Before you thank Miramax, be aware that its release is part of a campaign to hype the American remake of the film. In fact, the only extra feature on this DVD is A Look Inside Hollywood’s Shall We Dance?. This feature is spliced together from the various extra features on the other DVD (also released today). And except for possibly a mention or two, has nothing to do with the Japanese film.

There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, the Japanese movie is finally on DVD (yay!), and if the remake helped that happen, then perhaps a little cross-promotion is the price to pay. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel a little insulted on behalf of the original film. Doesn’t “original” count for something? If it was good enough to be remade, why not an interview or tribute with writer/director Masayuki Suo?

In any case, the only extra feature on this DVD has nothing to do with the movie, and that is a legitimate disappointment.

Picture and Sound

The sound is encoded in Dolby Digital Surround. The surround effects are few and far-between, mostly appearing during musical sequences. On the whole, the sound is a little thin, not because of any flaw in the DVD, but simply because of the source material.

The film is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and the picture quality is very good. The print is clean and the colors look stable and steady. The American remake looks much better, but again, that’s because of the budget and the source material, and not the DVD transfer.