Free Essay with Comparative Film Analysis

Published: 2022-03-09
Free Essay with Comparative Film Analysis
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Culture Movie
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 1927 words
17 min read

Over the past two decades, Hollywood has been remaking Asian films at a fast rate. This trend has attracted mixed reactions from Asian scholars with some perceiving it as one of the many ways of US-led globalization while others view it as a source of film stories for the Western and Eastern filmmakers. Apart from the geopolitical effects, this trend has resulted in the exposure of the cultural differences between the Western world and Asian countries. These differences are well demonstrated by conducting a comparative analysis of an original Japanese film titled "Shall We Dansu?" released in 1996 and the American remake version "Shall We Dance?" released in 2004. The analysis compares the two films against the social conditions, values, and ideologies of their respective cultures. In this regard, this comparative analysis examines the group's impact on personal conduct and the understanding of gender roles in both cultures.

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The Plot Summary of Shall We Dansu? (1996)

The movie starts by introducing the viewer to Shohei Sugiyama who is a 42-year old businessman and leads an ordinary suburban life with his wife, Hideko Hara, and daughter. Everything seems fine for Sugiyama but he feels void in his life. Every day when he travels home from work, he encounters a woman who stares from the window of a dance class. This makes Sugiyama enrol for the dance lessons and keeps it a secret from his wife. Although the original motive was to meet the woman in the window (Mai, the dance instructor), he becomes attached to the lessons and enjoys dancing with other students. Upon noticing his interest in dancing, the instructor promises to train Sugiyama in preparation for the upcoming competition. We later come to learn that Mai was a professional ballroom dancer but was forced by her father to quit and teach amateurs. Training Sugiyama makes Mai rediscover her passion in dancing. As Sugiyama develops his dancing skills, his family almost falls apart after his wife suspects him of having an affair due to his secretiveness. His wife hires a private detective to investigate him but the detective ends up developing interest in ballroom dancing. After learning the truth, his wife joins the audience in watching the competition. After Sugiyama notices his wife (Masako) in the audience, they engage in an argument during which Sugiyama receives a letter from Mai stating that she is returning to England and invites him to a farewell party. Throughout the competition, Sugiyama struggles with regrets for how he acted toward his wife and struggles with the decision whether or not to attend the party. In the end, Sugiyama reconciles with Masako and attends Mai's farewell party where he dances with her.

Plot Summary for Shall We Dance? (2004)

In the American version, the viewer is introduced to John Clark, who is a man with an ideal job, a wife, a son in college, and a teenage daughter. Despite having all these, Clark feels there is a void in his life. His normal days at work entail the same routine, travels by train to and from work. One day while travelling home from work, John spots a beautiful woman staring down from a window of a tall building. We later learn that the woman was inside a dance studio. Her gaze and beauty catch John's attention who then enrolls for the ballroom dancing lessons to meet her. After joining the dancing class, John develops interest and becomes passionate about ballroom dancing. He increasingly becomes involved in the dancing lessons as he prepares for the upcoming competition though he keeps it a secret from his family. As a result, his wife starts suspecting him of having an affair after becoming distant with his family. Beverly hires a private detective who discovers that John is not having an affair but rather is attending dancing lessons. With his secret revealed, he opts to demonstrate his love for Beverly by taking her to Paulina's farewell party.

After watching the two movies, various specific differences are apparent to the viewer. However, only two disparate yet related differences will be discussed. They include the group's impact on individual behaviour and manifestation of gender roles and inequities in the two cultures.

Group Impact on Individual Behaviours in Relation to Gender Roles

The Japanese society and culture are strongly connected to Confucianism. The emphasis of Confucianism on societal harmony is reflected in the group dynamic. According to Takeuchi, the ideology of group solidarity often causes problems to people who attempt to go against it or refuse to conform to the norms of the society (256). Although the Japanese are fully aware of the shortcomings and unfairness of conformity, self-denial, and group compliance, they do not internalize this belief. Davis observed that the challenges of this dogma, which mostly go against individual fulfillment, stem from the fact that they are deeply intertwined with people's understanding of what entails to be Japanese (60). In other words, a good person is one who foregoes his or her ambitions for the group's interests (Ellington, 163). On the contrary, group solidarity does not exist in America because the country's social and political spheres accommodate and promote different cultures and ideologies. Unlike in Japan where groupism is encouraged, individualism is valued in America.

Relating this to the Japanese film and the American remake, the characters are seen trapped in situations where they negotiate and renegotiate their lifestyles while trying to balance the competition between personal ambitions and group interest. For instance, Sugiyama and John have accomplished highly valued things in their societies. Both of them have well-paying jobs, beautiful wives, children, and homes in suburban areas. However, they soon become aware of their dissatisfaction in life. On one hand, Sugiyama is locked in a socially-conservative society while John is trapped in a society that celebrates possessions and wealth. In order to understand how the characters reflect the effects of groupism on individual behaviour and gender in Japan and the United States, it is important to gain a better understanding of the differences and similarities in social norms between the two cultures.

Groupism in the United States and Japan

According to Ellington, groupism in Japan is cyclical (183). In other words, rigid behaviours are inculcated in school systems and enforced at early stages of childhood. Children with special needs are usually bullied and looked down upon by the community. Boys and girls between grade four and grade nine do not mix (Yoshizumi, 191). At this period, all the male figures in a boy's life instill and teach him about cultural morals and the traits that define a man. In the same way, all the female figures in a girl's life including the mother, grandmother, and female teachers teach her how to demonstrate behaviours that are socially acceptable and recognizable as feminine. That moral conditioning, when translated into adulthood, promotes chauvinism, display of dependent behaviour by women, and feeling of discomfort between different sexes.

In Japan, men define themselves by the companies they work for. On the other hand, men in America define themselves by their field of expertise or profession (Reischauer, 133). Unlike women in Japan who are taught to become mothers and wives, women in America have relaxed social constraints. In particular, women in America can have successful careers, go through many sexual relationships, and bear children without necessarily having a husband (Reischauer, 176).

Demonstration of Cultural and Behavioural Norms by Characters

John and Sugiyama

Sugiyama works as an account manager for a big company while John is an estate planner. The viewer is first introduced to their work environments and then to their families. After arriving home from work, Sugiyama heads straight to bed. Comparing Sugiyama's behaviour to John's, it appears cold to an American audience considering John was given a birthday celebration by his family. John lovingly jokes with his wife and son and even teases his daughter for using a cell phone to call a friend. In Japan, Sugiyama's behaviour is normal because he is expected to spend most of his time in the workplace, socialize with co-workers for a short time then go home late. A Japanese man spends little time raising or bonding with children because his home is considered as a place for eating supper, sleeping, and bathing only (Yoshizumi, 191). That tendency could make an American audience perceive that the Japanese family-man only focuses on economic aspects leaving no time for his family.

According to Japanese culture, Sugiyama should be a happy man yet he is not. In the film, we see that he has just bought a new house with the help of his company. In return, he is expected to work for the company until he retires. His co-workers envy him but Sugiyama complains that he pledged his soul to the firm. He later comes to realize that he is unhappy because his life is about the society's expectations and not his ambitions and feelings as an individual. Feeling dejected, he draws away from co-workers and family. After joining the ballroom dancing lessons, he is wary but then finds comfort in midst of people who have rebelled against taboos and followed their desires. On the other hand, John's life is the opposite of Sugiyama's life. After realizing that wealth and possessions do not make him happy, he seeks to spend more time with his busy family. His wife (Beverly) is a departmental store manager who often works late, his son (Evan) is in college, and his daughter spends most of the time with friends. John's family best describes the American people's desire for individualism. His family cannot be considered as a unit but rather individuals who are determined to achieve and accomplish goals. With no way to fulfill his desires, he joins a ballroom dance class.

Both John and Sugiyama decide to enroll for dance lessons as a way of meeting an aloof instructor by applying macho codes in their respective societies. John is seen as cool and composed idealized man who cracks jokes and invites Paulina out for dinner. On the other hand, Sugiyama appears timid and afraid as he asks Mai out for dinner. Sugiyama's behaviour reflects the Japanese culture that is characterized by discomfort between different sexes. Although both of their invitations are declined because the instructors prefer not to get intimate with students, they later get the chance to dance with their desired woman. During the dance, Sugiyama is rigid and nervous while John laughs excitedly even when misses a step. Later, John and Paulina enjoy a private dance where John gets a chance to show off his skills. On the other hand, Mai criticizes Sugiyama when he makes a mistake and instructs him in front of everybody. The tension between Sugiyama and Mai illustrates the natural Japanese norms in intimate situations. Importantly, it demonstrates the social conditioning that girls and boys have limited interaction and socialization in their early life (Yoshizumi, 191).

Mai and Paulina

Mai's character demonstrates the contemporary position of Japanese women who try to navigate through a society that is slowly accommodating Western ideas of female independence and feminism while attempting to retain traditions. As noted by Reischauer, the principles of Confucian require that a woman obeys her father in her youth, obey her husband during maturity, and obey her son in old age (175). Thus, Mai, as an unmarried woman, is subject to her father. In the film, Mai's father is not seen as domineering but rather allowed Mai to pursue her interest in ballroom dancing despite being considered as a taboo. After returning to Japan and opening a dance studio, she is confused why her father would force her to follow...

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