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  Publicity Stills of
"Dance, Subaru!"
(Courtesy of Cathay-Keris Films)

In Japanese with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Lee Chi Ngai
Cast: Meisa Kuroki, Miku Sano, Ara, Yuta Hiraoka, Ken Maeda, Toshio Kakei, Kaori Momoi
RunTime: 1 hr 54 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films & Mediacorp Raintree Pictures
Rating: PG
Official Website: www.subaru-movie.com

Opening Day: 28 May 2009


Adapted from a popular Japanese manga (comic book) of the same title, Dance Subaru! is a motivating tale about the self-realization of a young ballerina under adversity. Subaru tells the story of genius ballerina Subaru Miyamoto with a special emphasis placed on the harsh training she undergoes and the immense social and psychological pressure she experiences. Subaru overcomes these issues to give a performance that leaves her audience crying for more.

Movie Review:
With Hollywood churning out dance flick after dance flick, usually centered around the street-dance genre with the likes of Make It Happen, and the Step Up franchise, it's time Asia, and a Pan-Asian effort at that (Hong Kong-Japan-Korea and Singapore even), hit back with something a little more classy and elegant, such as Ballet and the legendary Swan Lake being one of the key features.

But wait! If you're thinking Ballet and Swan Lake aren't your cup of tea, think again. Dance, Subaru! is more than just your average dance movie that has the protagonist perfect some obscenely difficult to master steps, then trouncing the competition with an ensemble mass choreographed dance. This film is more character driven, with the study of Subaru (Meisa Kuroki) and her dogged pursuit to hone her talents for dance, not only in a competitive arena, but as a metaphor toward self-actualization.

Based on a manga series, the film has ample content to draw from, and took some time to get off from first gear. We follow Subaru's rather tragic childhood where death and disease form early companionship, and the family finances and the grounded hopes of a father meant "trivial" dance lessons are nothing but a dream for little Subaru. But in defiance, she dashes off and becomes the unofficial protege of a fallen ballet star Madam Isuzu (Momoi Kaori), whose cabaret become the surrogate home where Subaru grows up in, performing some pieces over the weekends under Isuzu's tutelage.

What I thoroughly enjoyed in the film, are the life lessons summarized in under two hours. It's about the positive, persevering mindset one has to take to survive in today's world, with the challenge of bettering oneself through continuous education. One has to be flexible to learn and unlearn, and adapt when the situation calls for it. What we observe in Subaru, we can also observe in everyday life. At times we are star players and others follow in our example, while in others we have to learn how to be team players, and feed off the vibes of teammates in order to excel. There are times which call for individual brilliance, and times where team play is more important. I'm no dance expert, but never had I understood the little unsaid intricacies that happen behind the scenes, until this film opened them up.

Then there's the cat fights and rivalry, sometimes amongst friends even, whether you are aware of the pettiness and envy openly, or become victims of the scheming ones. In this film we see friends/fiends of Subaru in childhood friend Mana (Sano Miku), and contemporary critique in Liz Park (Korean model Ara) amongst others, and there's this constant tussle of not knowing who is most forthright in their intentions. If you've watched the anime film The Piano Forest, you'll understand that deep, sometimes inexplicable emotional struggle, and possibly the bump to the ego, of anyone having put in their best years in training, only to be overshadowed by a young upstart because of an innate talent that's being honed through access to the very best of instructors.

That bit should already engage you in trying to figure intent to the super cool heroine, whose played to perfection by Meisa Kuroki, skin tight leotard notwithstanding. There's this rebellious quality bordering on the arrogance of ego in Subaru that Meisa brought out effortlessly, and as such the character became more than just a 2D cardboard. Ara too portrayed her America-trained ballet dancer looking for new inspiration in her craft, with that confident glint in the eye, almost constantly showing her teeth in her chirpy smiles. Sano Miku also showed that she's no pushover, having background in dance to add realism to her moves, but I suppose the training for the other two ladies paid off handsomely as well, because to the untrained eye (like mine), they were believable and credible enough to pass off as professional dancers waiting to stamp their mark in the dance arena.

However, the narrative had a number of subplots thrown around, and never fully developed, such as the bit of romance between Subaru and Kohei (Yuta Hiraoka), the parental relationship between father and daughter, and that between mentor-protege or even the daughter-surrogate mom angle between Subaru and Madam Isuzu. There were touched upon but never did really shift into second gear, opting instead to pepper the in-between scenes with plenty of steep melodrama, or saccharine sweet moments found especially in the prologue act, providing that little touch of childhood fantasy.

Dance, Subaru! should appeal to fans of the dance movie genre not only because of the moves that one can watch and probably learn from, but more so the strength in character and everyday lessons that is reinforced through a dance film that surpasses those found in the same genre Hollwood productions. That said, the eye-candy galore helps too!

Movie Rating:

(More than just your typical dance movie with charismatic, good looking
leads leading the audience on tackling life's challenges)

Review by Stefan Shih


. Dance of the Dragon (2008)

. Step Up 2 : The Streets (2008)

. Smilers (2007)

. Step Up (2006)

. Take The Lead (2006)

. Swing Girls (2005)

. Center Stage: Turn It Up DVD (2008)


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