In “Dreams on Fire” writer-director Phillipe McKie marks his feature debut with a heady vision of the Japanese urban dance scene and one woman’s journey to find her place in it.
Equipped with little more than her passion for dance, Yume (Bambi Naka) leaves an unsupportive home life to make her way in the Tokyo underground. McKie paints a spacious and vivid portrait of the artist’s journey, allowing moments of silence to balance the chaos.
“Dreams on Fire” plays out on the one hand as a testament to the power of determination in the artist’s pursuit of a dream, and on the other a love letter to a city rarely viewed through its vibrant dance scene.
Variety spoke with writer-director McKie ahead of the film’s debut at Fantasia.
Can you speak on what inspired the project, and in particular Yume’s journey in the film? Why is that a story you wanted to tell the way you did?
It’s the most honest story I could tell, because it’s my story. And it’s a story that I feel like you have felt as well. It’s dedicated to the hustlers and those of us that are on the journey and it’s not as simple and easy as we’ve seen in these Hollywood fairy tales. And I’m also kind of tired of seeing again and again, films which perpetuate the myth that if you do your best your dreams will come true.
Also, I have a tremendous love for dance. As a teenager, I was dancing competitively in break dancing and tango. Dance was my life, you know, at a certain point in time. And when I committed to becoming a filmmaker, I always thought to myself in the back of my mind, there’s nothing scarier than shooting dance. But I believe that often what scares us the most is exactly what we have to do. And so in making this film, I walked into the fire and basically made the film that scared me the most.
You interestingly made the choice to focus on Yume’s friendships and her art, eschewing a contrived relationship arc. How did you come to and balance this decision, both when writing the character and during filming?
I love that you felt that in the film and it was absolutely a conscious decision and the way I see it. It’s just that when you’re at that level of hustle and at that level of obsession to just survive while pursuing your dream, there is literally no time for anything else.
Tell me about your art-direction. What inspired the choices you made?
I think coming into art direction, there were times where I would come in and choose all the little elements, and then there were other times where I knew that these artists had a style that I’m just going to bring in. So it’s taking the ingredients and putting them together and giving the artists involved enough freedom that they are creating something original that they love, while serving the story and the greater vision of the film.
Yume is played by Bambi Naka. Her style in the movie is different from the synchronized high-speed dancing she’s known for with AyaBambi. How did you develop Yume’s dancing style for the movie?
Bambi surpassed all our expectations. She just blew our minds. And I think it’s a combination of talent, in the sense that since she was a kid she’s loved being on stage, she’s loved dancing and she has that knack for it…and also has experience, you know, touring the world in front of like multitudes of people in the scariest situations possible. Literally beside Madonna. And then hard work.