Dreams On Fire (2021)
Director (and writer): Philippe McKie
Cast: Bambi Naka, Masahiro Takashima, Akaji Maro, Saki Okuda, Shizuku Yamashita, Medusa Lee
A vibrant and intoxicating look into Japanese dance and subculture communities. – IMDB
Dreams On Fire is a 2021 drama about the journey of a young dancer Yume who moves from her small-town against her grandfather and mother’s wishes to Tokyo to make it big in dancing however along the way, she meets a few good and bad people that assist and hinder her journey.
From the director of short film Breaker previously shown at Fantasia Festival, Philippe McKie has the North American premiere of his directorial feature film debut with Dreams On Fire that casts dancer Bambi Naka in her first leading role in the role of Yume. Yume’s journey through Tokyo isn’t exactly an unexpected one however, it is unique to the Tokyo landscape as it leads her from one place to the next that exceeds the hostess club that she lands her first job at to a lot of underground bars and clubs from fetish to cosplay and so on. Through the process she learns about the hurdles of becoming of a dancer on all fronts both from the people she meets to the things that happen to her, something like building a social media following having its importance and the importance of image, making her simple dream of being a dancer much more complicated than it seems. Much like most dance films, it all dials down to a big dance battle that almost rounds out as the movie also starts off in a dance battle.
With the different locations, the music style and dance styles all vary and change making the movie every more so colorful both literally and metaphorically. Along the way, Yume also breaks out of her shy shell and really openly expresses herself more and more. The film shifts through these locations mostly showing different dance scenes, dance studio, the hostess club where she works and anchoring itself in her little rental room which is an empty little box with a table and computer and nothing else, truly highlighting the starving artist part of her journey. The part of the charm of the film is the underground settings, each with their own distinctive elements starting with the gold and chandelier almost tacky cosplay hostess club that Yume’s starting working at where the people there are mostly horrible as expected to the darker settings from S&M club and her introduction into different music like heavy metal and folk. The film really dives deep into the diversity of Tokyo’s underground scene.
A good part of Yume’s journey is in the people that she meets along the ways. As much as she meets bad people like the hostess club boss who threatens her often to keep coming to work and has a lack of respect in general, she also meets a lot of good people along the way who appreciate her talents and while doesn’t quite understand her journey, refers to other dance-related gigs and jobs however, perhaps its the people the she meets on her own paths that are the most charming. Of course, that’s not to say that Bambi Naka as Yume isn’t great because she does a great job and it helps that her dancing abilities are really outstanding and the growth throughout the film moving from one dance choreography to the next is embodied so well. The one that definitely stands out is her dance studio teacher played by Genta Yamaguchi who is a colorful person in general. Every scene is so fun and light-hearted and absolutely bubbly. Much like later on when she meets ChoCho (Medusa Lee), a Chinese fashion school graduate that moved to Tokyo to be in what she believes is the no.1 fashion location and ends up teaming up with Yume with her costumes. Not to mention that, I strongly believe that the jacket she wears in final battle is the one that is in Breaker (not sure if anyone can confirm this or not?).
Dreams On Fire is an absolutely journey that keeps to familiar outline of a dance movie and yet also breaks out of it by highlighting its locations and stepping up the diversity of music and dance as it moves through so much variety on the artistic level. The movie is a trip, not only for Yume but the viewer. At times, the cinematography is also a trip from rotating camera angles to aerial shots to long neon-lit alleys or distorted dreamy sequences used blurs and bright colors. Overall, Dreams On Fire is an absolute treat.