Dreams on Fire – Glasgow Film Festival 2021 – Film Review
Dreams on Fire is a captivating, immersive and hypnotic tale as a love letter to dance and Tokyo. The film swirls, swoops and burns with its mesmerising, intoxicating choreography and a vibrant, authentic rhythm that is unparalleled. Dreams on Fire entices with its surreal, dream like quality with impressive sound editing and cinematography. The passion felt by the protagonist Yume in every scene is exhilarating to behold in a charismatic performance by real life dancer Bambi Naka in an impressive acting debut. Dreams on Fire is in equal measure a travel movie and an ode to following dreams with its World Première at the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival.
Dreams on Fire follows Yume’s journey from being an innocent, impressionable girl from the countryside, embarking on a voyage of self-discovery to Tokyo with just her dreams to be a dancer and a suitcase, to working as a club hostess. Yume’s absolute determination seems enviable as many may have harboured desires to escape to the big lights of a city in pursuit of a better life. Whilst this is a subject addressed in dance films such as Flashdance, Coyote Ugly and those involving dance battles such as Bring It On and Save the Last Dance, Dreams on Fire is unique in its exploration of the different traditions within Tokyo dance styles. Embracing the style found within Save the Last Dance, Dreams on Fire fuses hip hop dance moves with jazz with kinetic, dazzling routines with flourishing finishes. The film also delves into the traditional Japanese footwork routines as well as its modern equivalent which are transfixing from the outset.
The dance routines that Yume performs are influenced by each chapter in her journey. A dance teacher had earlier counselled Yume to channel her emotions into her dance. It is therefore fascinating to observe the impact of these experiences on Yume’s personality and dance style in such a visceral performance from Naka. Under director Philippe McKie’s vision, the film adopts a ‘show don’t tell ‘approach immersing the audience fully within the frustrations and joys encountered by Yume with spellbinding imagery and blurred edits. Reminiscent of a music video during scenes in clubs with quick edits, Dreams of Fire is an enthralling watch.
Dreams on Fire is unafraid to unveil the darker elements of dance as Yume meets some people providing mentorship, but others are instrumental in leading her into a murkier dance scene where fetishism is on display, which is even a word that innocent Yume had to research.
Dreams on Fire effectively serves as a realistic version of Lost in Translation with its spotlight on the neon lights of Tokyo and night time dance scenes. There are men falling over drunk in bars and on the streets as part of Yume’s odyssey through Tokyo’s districts. McKie impressively re-creates that sensation of feeling lost and trying to find a purpose whilst Yume wanders aimlessly as a stranger in Tokyo. The director himself was a newcomer in Tokyo and the skilful editing and cinematography provide that immersion within Yume’s world with disorientating camera angles and the sound editing is superb. Dreams of Fire is an impressive, assured feature directorial debut from McKie, who will be one to watch for future projects.
Dreams on Fire’s visually stunning cinematography is at times reminiscent of Blade Runner with its futuristic gleam from the neon lights of the clubs and bars in which Yume finds work as a ‘dancer’. Every encounter seems to provide an opportunity for Yume and the film provides that lesson that perhaps being open to trying various situations, within reason, may assist with the fulfilment of goals. At times, amusing but in other scenes disturbing, the transformation in Yume is riveting.
Dreams on Fire illustrates the power of friendship and support as Yume’s self-discovery is assisted by some well-meaning souls. Whilst striving for that dancer’s life and inevitably suffering for her craft, an interesting revelation within Dreams on Fire is that a social media presence is a better marketing tool for a dancer’s career than dance talent. It is a lesson that impacts Yume’s development profoundly and shifts her perspective.
The film also illustrates the traditional side of Tokyo with some visually appealing scenes of natural landscapes and running water. Dreams on Fire truly sates the senses with its cinematography and the choreography.
Overall, Dreams on Fire is a mesmerising film filled with passion, emotion and captivating dance routines which, alongside its pulsating rhythm, will make you wish to stand up and dance. The film is a celebration of dance reminding us of the power of dance to transform and create a euphoric state. The film will enchant audiences as it traverses the world of art and places that emphasis on the importance to remain true to ourselves and to our friends in the pursuit of our dreams and happiness in this journey of life.