Dreams on Fire (2021) [Fantasia Film Festival 2021] 

Yume has a passion for dance. She leaves for Tokyo where she takes dance classes, joins contests, gets hired as a dancer, and generally lives the life of a dancer with all its ups and its downs. 

Written and directed by Philippe McKie, for whom this is a first feature film, Dreams on Fire explores the lives of those who live in subcultures, passionate about what they do and with a fire within them to keep their dreams going. The story of Yume is central here and the character is interesting to watch go through the trials and tribulations of becoming a professional dancer. The story is one where the lead is central to everything and very little is shown of the other characters. This is all about Yume and everyone else shown is shown in relation to her. This makes for a very specific story here and it works. The lead is a well fleshed out character and her passion is shown clearly. The direction helps this move along like a sort of extended music video with loud colors, powerful dancing, bright costumes, and almost dizzying décor at times. Once put together, it becomes a lot, almost too much, but it avoids falling into that “too much” category by having just the right balance in its abundance. 

Starring as the lead, the center of this film’s universe, as Yume is Bambi Naka for who this was only a second role. She’s is amazing here, mesmerizing even. Her acting and her dancing are just fascinating to watch. She makes the role hers and becomes Yume through and through. She’s the main the reason to watch this and she knows it. She is not afraid to act and just be really. She’s the center and she pulls the viewer in to her and doesn’t let them go. She has talent, persona, charm, something more that is great to watch evolve in this film. Her work is the film here. 

The cinematographer by James Latimer is absolutely gorgeous, the colorful lights and settings are shown brightly and boldly with an eye for small details. Angles are carefully chosen to make lead absolutely central to the story almost no matter what. Latimer’s work here is great with so much shown in every frame, something that could be dizzying, but it is not in most scenes (unless it needs to be). The cinematography shows a knowledge of image-building and how to make the most of any location. It also shows an understanding of light as there are no one lens flare out of place here. This is the kind of work that makes a film worth buying (if the rest of the film had not sold the viewer on picking it up yet). 

Dreams on Fire is successful film about the underground, the underdogs, the subcultures communities of Japan as see through one character. It’s charming, it’s energizing in how it grabs the viewer and makes them want to see more.  It’s a wonderful and exciting kaleidoscope of music, dance, and vibrant life. 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 5th until August 25th.