Shall We Dance - Prologue

David Desser d-desser at
Mon Nov 3 12:42:53 EST 1997

Thanks to Carole Cavanaugh for clarifying the status of the opening
sequence of _Shall We Dance_.  It's clear that many "viewers" do not know
how to view films.  And that is interesting.  (This is a different issue, I
think, than the unfortunate exchange regarding _Tokyo Biyori_.)  The
"prologue" in _Shall We Dance_ is NOT a prologue at all, since similar
footage appears LATER in the film.  Why "assume" it's a *European*
ballroom, when it's *clearly* the British ballroom at which the
dancer-heroine so memorably failed earlier in her career and which failure
we see, IN THAT BALLROOM, later in the film.  In other words, it is clear,
at least *retrospectively*, what and where that ballroom is, and how it
figures prominently in the plot of _Shall We Dance_. It would have been a
shock indeed if the so-called prologue were not in the Japanese version
since it is central to the film.  Principles of retrospectivity are common
in Japanese films and such films which utilize this strategy require a bit
more sophistication in viewers; at least a bit more *attention* paid to
films.  Confusions in American audiences untrained in cinema are thus
possible (and interesting) and remind us that *film* remains a medium of
great specificity and subtlety.  What's surprising is to find such
confusions in a fairly straightforward film, such straightforwardness and
simplicity being one factor as to why _Shall We Dance_ has achieved its
extraordinary popularity in the US.  (Yes, there are other factors, too.)


At 10:30 AM 11/3/97, Carole Cavanaugh wrote:
>I am at this very moment preparing to teach a class with the Japanese
>video of Shall We Dance? as our text. The prologue is there in the
>Japanese version (I transcribed it last night!). There is a scene of the
>wife and daughter in the family car that is not in the film released in
>the U.S.
>Carole Cavanaugh
>Middlebury College
>On Mon, 3 Nov 1997, Kerry Smith wrote:
>> In discussions during the Modern Japan History Workshop at Harvard this
>> past weekend,  someone pointed out that the version of _Shall We Dance_ now
>> appearing in U.S. theatres  begins with a scene of what one viewer assumed
>> was a European ballroom and a brief commentary on Japanese attitudes
>> towards humor and the public display of affection.  The commentary pointed
>> out that Japanese are comfortable with neither humor nor public displays of
>> affection.
>> I'm guessing that this contextualization was added to the film for its
>> foreign release.  Is this a correct assumption?  (I have the Japanese
>> release of the film at home on video but haven't seen it as yet.)  I've
>> been trying to remember other, similar "introductions" to Japanese films
>> but have so far come up short.  I'm wondering if the introduction in this
>> case serves to introduce American viewers to a set of stereotypes they
>> might otherwise be unfamiliar with before going on to debunk those images,
>> or,  and more cynically,  does it help exoticize the characters by placing
>> them in the context of a uniquely Japanese situation?
>> How would the film have been different without that introductory sequence?
>> Thanks,
>> Kerry Smith
>> Department of History
>> Brown University
>> (401) 863-1246
>> (401) 863-1040 (fax)
>> Kerry_Smith at

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