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M’max’s ‘Dance’ nears record

Miramax’s “Shall We Dance?” is poised to set a box office record for a Japanese language release in North America. The tale of a Tokyo businessman who reinvigorates his life through a passion for ballroom dancing was less than $75,000 away from surpassing the current champ, Orion Classics’ 1985 vintage “Ran” by Akira Kurosawa.

The cume of “Shall We Dance?” cume of $7,245,256 should exceed “Ran” on Thursday or Friday.

One of the top box office champs in Japan last year, the romantic “Dance” grossed more than $30 million at home and has a real shot at a $10 million gross domestically — a rare feat for a foreign-language picture and particularly one from Asia. Only three other Asian films have ever grossed more than $5 million in North America — “Farewell My Concubine,” “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman.”

Historically, the biggest Japanese grossers in the U.S. have been dubbed, and include monster pictures such as “Godzilla” and “Mothra” and the animal family film “The Adventures of Milo and Otis.” During the 1950s and 1960s, works by Kurosawa and Ichakawa and such pics as “Gate of Hell,” “Onibaba” and “Woman of the Dunes” were art house successes. More recently, only a handful of films from Japan (including “Tampopo” and “Dreams”) have grossed more than $1 million domestically.

More significant than geography is the fact that fewer than 20 non-English language pics have ever topped $10 million in box office. If “Shall We Dance?” climbs to that level, it would be the sixth film to attain that status since 1980. Miramax pics in that rarefied group are “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Il Postino” and “Cinema Paradiso.”

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