While one cannot say that Japan produces a lot of musical narratives, there have been some notable attempts in the past, like Takashi Miike’s crazy The Happiness of the Katakuris (2002), Miike’s somewhat extravagant For Love’s Sake (2012) and Shinobu Yaguchi’s Swing Girls (2004). With Dance With Me (2019), Yaguchi, also know from Survival Family (2018) returns to the musical genre, leaving us wondering if he can infuse some life in this often underappreciated genre.
One day, Shizuka Suzuki (Ayaka Miyoshi), who works as an office lady at Yotsuba holdings, is asked by Ryosuke Murakami (Takahiro Miura), to help him. Shizuka, secretly romantically interested in him, welcomes his attention with both arms and sets out to impress him. Ta
In the weekend, Shizuka is forced by her sister to look after her daughter, Nana. Luckily, she is able to finish her work on time. Happy with her work, she decides to go with Nana to Fortune land. At fortune land, Nana desperately wants to enter a cheap house of hypnosis. Forced by Nana, Shizuka meets the once famous hypnotist Martyn Ueda (Akira Takarada), a meeting that changes her unmusical-like life forever.
While Dance With Me might seem like a typical romantic comedy and musical narrative, it isn’t. It might be true that this narrative, just like many romantic comedies, touches upon the aspect of the body-image as prime element of seduction, but the way in which this typicality is inserted in the structure of the narrative allows for an atypical twist.
The aspect of the musical is also atypically inserted in the narrative. In truth, this extremely smart approach to the musical narrative, allows the narrative to rise above the average musical narrative. The aspect in question is realized by the tension that is generated between Shizuka’s intense dislike for musicals, a dislike beautifully highlighted in a short monologue, and her change into the kind of person – a person who starts to dance and sing whenever there is music – she seemingly loathes.
Besides this subjective tension, there is also a societal tension at play in the narrative. This societal tension, the major comedic mechanism of Dance With Me, concerns the very inappropriateness between her forced spontaneous dancing/singing and the societal context – a societal context that despite some exaggeration is painted in a believable way – in which her dancing/singing happens (Narra-note 1). A more subtle aspect of comedy, a visual aspect related to the major comedic mechanism, concerns the contrast between Shizuka’s fantastical musical experience and the ravage her dancing/singing actually causes.
As her dancing/singing disrupts the ordinary societal context (e.g. her workplace, the restaurant,…) in a major way – a compulsion that turns her into an outsider and even endangers her changes for a romance with Murakami, Shizuka’s immediately sets out to find Martyn so he can reverse the hypnosis (Narra-note 2). Alas, that will be more difficult said than done, as Martyn has disappeared in order to avoid his debt-collectors. What follows is extremely fun musical ride throughout Japan, including a confrontation with rivaling gangs, a hip-hop dance-off, a string of street-performances, and crashing a wedding party.
The first tension, as is implied very clearly by the narrative, is in fact a fake tension, as Shizuka’s conscious dislike for musicals hides a lingering but unconscious (unfulfilled) desire to dance and sing. By being forced to confront this unconscious desire through hypnosis, Shizuka is consequently forced to recognize and accept this desire as hers. In this way the narrative of Dance With Me highlights the highly relevant idea to find and do what one really loves to do, instead of following the well-trod roads society and parents prepare for us (Narra-note 3).
Another aspect that turns Dance With Me into an extremely enjoyable experience is the successful marriage of the energetic cinematography – a cinematographic blend of fluid spatial movement, following movement, and some fixity – and the musical accompaniment as such (cine-note 1). In other words, the enjoyment one can extract from this musical narrative finds its first origin in the very way by which the musical accompaniment, albeit quite often in a subtle way, guides the rhythm of the cinematographical composition, the framing of the dance-routines as such.
But that’s not all. The very blend of energetic music and fitting imagery empowers the enjoyment Shizuka has while dancing in an enticing way. The fact that cinematography of Dance with Me is able to empower the enjoyment of Shizuka constitutes nothing other than the second source for the spectator’s enjoyment.
Of course the cinematography would not have been able to empower Shizuka’s enjoyment, if Ayaka Miyoshi did not provide a performance that could be cinematographically exploited. In fact, Ayaka Miyoshi – aided by a set of very expressive eyes – carries the entire narrative with her charming performance – a performance that has to be counted among the best one can found in romantic comedies. In other words, Miyoshi’s performance is so enjoyable to watch that it captures the spectator’s desire to be enjoyed, a desire that, once captured, never escapes the narrative’s grasp.
Dance With Me is an extremely fun musical comedic experience. While the somewhat unconventional elements lead to a predictable finale, this predictability does not matter at all, as one is able to happily drift on the enticing fun oozing from the narrative ride as such. In other words, due to the successful mutually empowering marriage between imagery and music, a marriage supported by Miyoshi’s performance, Dance With Me has become one of the most pleasing musical experiences of recent years and one fine encouragement to people to find and do what they love.
Narra-note 1: Shizuka, as is beautifully underlined, fully aware of the inappropriateness of her behaviour. While she is conscious of this fact before and after dancing/singing, this consciousness is fully erased when she starts to dance/sing.
Narra-note 2: In a surprising twist, Shizuka’s musical outburst at the office helps Murakami securing the bid. As a result, Shizuka is invited to be part of his team and the romance she so desired comes close to be fully realized.
Narra-note 3: In the somewhat tensive conversation between Shizuka and her mother another theme is quickly touched upon: the unpayable debt that children have towards their parents. Besides underlining of this debt, the flashback that follows also introduces another aspect: Shizuka’s experience of being talented at singing and dancing, a talent for which she was adored by her peers
Cine-note 1: Other more ‘exotic’ cinematographical techniques (e.g. zoom-ins, funky fades) are unobtrusively blended in with the cinematographical whole.