GFF 2021: Dreams on Fire

Dance movie Dreams on Fire occasionally trades in clichés but thrives when working as an unapologetic examination of trying to make it in a precarious industry

Film Review by Anahit Behrooz | 08 Mar 2021
  • Dreams on Fire
Film title: Dreams on Fire
Director: Philippe McKie
Starring: Bambi Naka, Masahiro Takashima, Akaji Maro

Following in the perfectly choreographed footsteps of such films as Step Up and Save the Last Dance, Dreams on Fire centres on Yume (Bambi Nake), a young Japanese woman who escapes her fraught, provincial family life to throw herself headlong into Tokyo’s underground dance scene – whatever the odds.

This is well-trodden cinematic ground, and Dreams on Fire at times fails to stake its claim within a crowded genre. The script occasionally trades in clichés (“You never believed in me,” shouts Yume tearfully at her grandfather), while the initially electrifying dance scenes lose impact towards the film’s more unfocused middle. Yet where Dreams on Fire thrives is in its unapologetic examination of trying to make it in a precarious industry, of the reality of pursuing creative ambition in an unaccommodating world. Director Philippe McKie creates a dazzling contrast between the exploitation of bodily labour when moonlighting at hostess clubs – the camera close on tense faces and tight spaces – and the freedom of the body – shot with exhilarating looseness – when it is allowed to create and express and simply be.

McKie’s unexpectedly grounded approach is reinforced by the casting of Bambi Nake, one of Japan’s most well-known dancers, who brings a charming authenticity to her debut lead role. Disarmingly naturalistic, Nake is remarkably less interested in the spectacle of dance than in the quiet desire of Yume’s ambition. It’s a clear-sighted, compassionate performance well-suited to a film that, in its more assured moments, recognises the slow ways in which some dreams burn.

Dreams on Fire has its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival, screening 6-9 Mar