The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2021 Review - DREAMS ON FIRE | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2021 Review - DREAMS ON FIRE

dreams on fire review
A young woman heads to Tokyo to follow her dream of becoming a dancer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Philippe McKie

Starring: Bambi Naka, Masahiro Takashima, Akaji Maro, Ikuyo Kuroda

dreams on fire poster

Japan based Canadian writer/director Philippe McKie's feature debut Dreams on Fire is a musical that follows a template as old as the genre itself, that of a young woman battling adversity as she tries to make her way in the cutthroat world of dance. While its plot could have been borrowed from any number of 1930s musicals, Dreams on Fire plays out in a very modern setting, the neon soaked streets, bars and clubs of Tokyo, and updates an old story with contemporary concerns.

Making her acting debut as our protagonist Yume is Bambi Naka, herself a dancer who has toured with Madonna. We first see Yume as a young girl, enraptured by a dance troupe. "I want to be a dancer," she exclaims in delight. Smash cut to a decade later and Yume, now in her late teens, is arguing with her grandfather (Akaji Maro), who thoroughly disapproves of Yume's ambitions, cruelly blaming her for her mother's (Ikuyo Koroda) sickness.

dreams on fire review

Yume storms out and heads for the bright lights of Tokyo, where she ends up living in a bedsit smaller than the average 1950s American family fridge. Desperate to become a professional dancer, Yume takes part in various tournaments while taking classes to hone her skills. To fund her ambitions she accepts a job as a hostess at a club, where she is required to entertain drunken men while dressed as a schoolgirl.

If you've seen any musicals of this sort, from 42nd Street to Flashdance, you'll be familiar with the various boxes ticked by Dreams on Fire's generic plotting. Yume faces exactly the sort of ups and downs you would expect, the only real difference being now she has to contend with social media as casting directors care more about how many Instagram followers she has accumulated than her dance skills.

dreams on fire review

While the plot is as straightforward as you might expect from a musical, it feels unfocussed. We're never quite aware of just what Yume's ultimate goal is, and the film often feels as though it's making up its story as it goes. With most movies of a similar nature, we know our protagonist is aiming to win some ultimate competition, something that isn't established here until the movie is almost over.

If anything, there's an imbalance between the ups and downs of Yuke's journey. Things seem to go a little too easy for her, and any setbacks she suffers seem relatively minor. Practically everyone she meets who isn't a predatory man goes out of their way to help her, sometimes in inexplicable fashion like the fellow hostess who donates her a week's wages out of pity. Yuke's troubled home life appears to have been forgotten about, save for a late dream sequence.

dreams on fire review

As a musical, Dreams on Fire suffers from a lack of understanding from McKie of how to shoot the genre. Naka and the various other dancers we meet are all clearly very talented, so it's incredibly frustrating that McKie films his dance sequences in heavily edited close-ups, rarely allowing us to soak up their skills in a wide shot.

Dreams on Fire will likely hold niche appeal for dance enthusiasts, but if it's worth seeking out for anyone else it's down to the performance of Naka. Aside from her moves, she delivers a striking debut performance. Watching Dreams on Fire, you realise you're watching a star in the making, both on and off screen.

Dreams on Fire plays online at the Glasgow Film Festival from March 6th to 9th.

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