FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Phillipe McKie’s Dreams on Fire does one thing very well: it makes you want to go to Tokyo yesterday. The film captures so many different types of people and subcultures it can almost make your head spin. It is refreshing, considering we only usually see Tokyo presented in a certain way in movies. McKie explores the city’s mysteries through the eyes of a newcomer, Yume (Bambi Naka), a fledgling dancer who leaves her family home in the countryside against their wishes.
Yume has wanted to be a dancer ever since she was a child. When she’s old enough to leave, her mother becomes sick, and her grandfather doesn’t want her to go. Yume does it anyway, though, as young people are wont to do. She quickly introduces herself to the underground dance clubs in hopes of winning a contest and making friends. She dances in a competition her first night in a club but is the first to get eliminated, leaving in embarrassment. Right after that, she starts taking dance lessons from some of the people who also competed.
Unfortunately, as most artists of any kind have to do when starting, Yume needs a day, or in her case, a night job, to make ends meet. She lives in an apartment about the size of a small closet. I seriously have never seen a living space as small as this, and I live in New York City. It’s so tiny she can’t even practice her dance routines in there. Yume sleeps on a mat with her knees tucked into her chest. So a job is a welcome opportunity.
“…quickly introduces herself to the underground dance clubs in hopes of winning a contest and making friends.”
Yume takes a job at a hostess club, which is essentially a place where men go to drink while ogling and trying to touch the “hostesses” who are paid to hang out with them. At first, the boss (Masahiro Takashima) seems nice and understanding, but Yume quickly finds out that is not the case. Her one friend, Sakura (Saki Okuda), gets blacklisted simply for leaving a shift early. Throughout the flirtation with various types of nightlife, Yume grows as a person and starts to discover herself as a dancer. First, we see her working as a go-go dancer at a Fetish club. Then we see her training a young J-pop artist. Her trajectory is very realistic insofar as the life of an artist. You’re grabbing at whatever straws you can until you get your “big break,” if that ever happens.
While the subject matter in Dreams on Fire is nothing new, how it is executed is far from ordinary. The soundtrack is amazing, as is the choreography. The costume design is excellent, but that’s no surprise, considering how fashion-forward Tokyo has been for ages. It could very easily be reduced and disregarded as a less raunchy Japanese Showgirls, and if that sounds good to you, then go check it out.
If you want more than that, the film certainly delivers. It is an exceptionally well-made movie that celebrates subcultural existence. I’d love to see more films explore a city’s ins and outs with as much reverence and acuity, especially one I haven’t been to. Dreams on Fire transports you out of your boring living room and into the Tokyo nightlife. For that, I truly enjoy it.
Dreams On Fire screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.
"…a less raunchy Japanese Showgirls..."