Office worker Shizuka Suzuki (Ayaka Miyoshi) aspires to climb the corporate ladder in her city firm, but when she takes her niece to a street carnival hypnotist she finds herself to hypnotised. Whenever Shizuka hears music, her life transforms into a Broadway musical number. She must find the hypnotist to break her out of her new musical life, but he has gone on the run – with Shizuka in pursuit.
The central conceit of Dance With Me, a 2019 Japanese comedy by writer/director Shinobu Yaguchi, is an absolutely delightful one. It offers the opportunity to present a wide range of charming musical numbers in surprising locations with a variety of emotional tones and creative styles. The problem with the concept, however, is that is rather limited. This becomes clear in Dance With Me, a film that starts in a highly traditional mode but soon runs completely out of steam. One minute it is all about confusing a love interest, attempting to climb the corporate ladder, and being constantly on the run from any music playing around town, and the next it feels flat as a creative pancake. The film simply runs out of ideas.
Yaguchi has a solution, of course, which is to shift genre slightly and become an entirely fresh take on the concept. The first phase of the film is a traditional sort of farce backed up with outlandish song and dance routines. While it does grind to a halt at the mid-point, it soon re-works itself as a comedic road movie as Shizuka heads off into regional Japan to find the hypnotist who got her singing in the first place – accompanied by the hypnotist’s abandoned former assistant (Yu Yashiro).
Both halves are entertaining, but fail to match one another well. There is a predictable but comforting gloss about the first half. It plays things rather safely, follows well-worn tropes and stereotypes and is peppered with some hugely entertaining musical numbers. The second half brings a less polished independent edge, which is more interesting to watch but leaves the viewer feeling as if something valuable was dropped along the way. Altogether it is a breezy kind of fun, but feels like a better film was lost during the development process.
Ayaka Miyoshi makes for an appealing and relatively pleasant lead, although there is a certain degree of blandness to the character. More amusing is Yu Yashiro as her raffish sidekick Chie, a disruptive sort of personal disaster area that only makes Shizuka’s task more difficult. She has a superb comic style, and lifts the film’s second half tremendously.
Akira Takarada, an 85 year-old veteran of Toho’s Godzilla movies, brings a sort of old-time entertainment to the film as the tatty and worn-out hypnotist who curses Shizuka so terribly. He is clear having a lot of fun in his role, and the fun is of an infectious variety.
Dance With Me does not work as well as its basic concept deserves, and sadly it is – as a whole film – less than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, it is also bright and engaging and regularly an awful lot of fun. You will likely enjoy it, but it’s unlikely you would bother to watch it twice.