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  Dreams on Fire Dance Yourself Dizzy
Year: 2021
Director: Philippe McKie
Stars: Bambi Naka, Masahiro Takashima, Akaji Maro, Ikuyo Kuroda, Okuda Saki, Shizuku Yamashita, Medusa Lee, Rinomaru, Yumeri Chikada
Genre: Drama, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Yume (Bambi Naka) has made up her mind: she is leaving home. She tells her grandfather and mother, who do not react well, her grandparent in particular damning her to a life of misery and guilt for not staying in the country with her family. But Yume has seen a glimpse of another life, when she attended a dance concert that hugely impressed her, and she knows she wants to be part of that world, convinced she has the talent to succeed. The trouble is, once she reaches Tokyo she has little idea of where to begin, and after renting a shoebox of a room she tries entering a hip-hop contest, where she is eliminated in the first round. She does not take this well, exiting in tears, but knows she cannot be demoralised too far...

She cannot admit defeat, essentially, and that is what powers Yume through a long two hours of drama with a music arrangement, constantly being knocked back but always picking herself up and dusting herself off to try again. You may think after a while, hey, learn to know when you're beaten, but she is not that kind of girl, even if it purely means proving her grandfather wrong, not that we have any evidence he has any awareness of her activities after she storms out: and also not that she needed to prove anything to him at all, not that she sees it that way. She feels bad about her ailing mother, but recognises if she does not give dance a shot she will never be happy in her own skin, better to try and fail than never bother in the first place.

Bambi Naka had made her name in Japan as a dancer, so this role should have been second nature to her if that was all there was to it, but she has to carry some dramatic weight as well. Fortunately, while initially seeming like this will not be satisfying to watch a cringing young woman be exploited and dismissed for the entire running time, writer and director Philippe McKie (in his debut feature) preferred to allow Yume's confidence to grow subtly, so that by the time she has found her feet, so to speak, we are surprised that the transformation that could sustain our interest has already happened, and we are invested in the heroine's future. However, this is not a tale of overnight success, and the cruelty of competition culture where so much rides on getting it right just one time rather than assembling a body of work to bolster your talent is given short shrift here.

But there was something else here: an indictment of how Japan treats its young women. Yume's first job after signing up for dance classes is as a bar escort, where she is employed to make businessmen feel better by pretending to be interested in them and laughing at their rotten jokes, and after being offered some pointers of how to brush off unwanted advances by colleague Okuda Saki (an actual porn star) it appears spending evenings with these creeps is a small price to pay for paying the rent. Then one of them spikes her drink - on the eve of an audition, one example of the steady stream of indignities Yume and women her age are subjected to by these men. But a loss of innocence is part and parcel of life in Tokyo, and as she gets jobs in sexualised performance, she begins to become more comfortable in herself, while crucially never selling out utterly: we get the impression she quite enjoys whipping the clients in the S&M bar as a kind of revenge. By the last act, where we consider this wasn't worth it, there is a ray of sunshine, but it's a tough road to travel to get there. Naka impressed as a rounded character, and she can dance.

[This has its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, March 6th 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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