Philippe McKie’s drama Dreams on Fire provides a glimpse into Tokyo’s underground dance and music scene

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      Before graduating from Concordia University’s film school in Montreal, Philippe McKie left for Japan with the goal of immersing himself in its eccentric arts scene. Between the production of obscure anime, manga, and EDM, combined with its underground subculture communities, Japan was pushing the limits and delving into art unlike anywhere else.

      After permanently settling in Tokyo, it was time for the aspiring filmmaker to think about writing and directing his first feature. When reflecting on genres and potential themes, McKie found one subject incredibly intimidating: dance.

      “As a teenager, I took breakdancing and tango classes, and spent a lot of time going to dance shows,” says McKie. “Once I became a filmmaker, the thought of shooting a dance film seemed terrifying because of the sheer beauty that comes with the movement. I started diving into the underground dance scene in Tokyo and met people who were able to give me access to that crazy universe and then it just clicked. I realized that I needed to make a film about the most hardcore artistic hustle and there was no better way to do that than through a dancer.”

      McKie’s independently funded film, Dreams on Fire, follows Yume (Bambi Naka), a young woman who dreams of breaking into Japan’s extraordinary dance world. She leaves her small town, against her parents' wishes, to move to Tokyo with hopes of making her mark in dance.

      Naka, a well-known dancer in Japan performed with Madonna's Rebel Heart tour, plays her first leading role in Dreams on Fire.

      Between attending street dance competitions and hip-hop classes, Yume encounters several colourful characters. All alone in the big city, she has no choice but to take a job at a Japanese hostess club to survive. Far from her initial ambitions, this job could allow her to gain self-confidence if it doesn’t lead her into a toxic spiral.

      Fantasia International Film Festival

      The electrifying film explores a wide range of dance and music styles, and will be making its North American premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Dreams on Fire has already been screened in cinemas throughout Japan.

      The story is set in the vibrant surroundings and stunning iconic locations of Tokyo, including the underground mega-club, Womb. McKie was already familiar with several of the nightclubs featured in the film through his own artistic “sub quests”.

      “When I first arrived in Tokyo, I was ready to shoot all this stuff on my fancy DSLR and I started to explore these underground subculture communities that I was interested in,” he says. “I quickly realized that even though I had been researching them for years, reality was nothing like what the Internet was telling me.”

      McKie put his camera down and ventured into other artistic fields as a way to gather information—shortly after, his event-coordinating and DJ persona took shape.

      “The funny thing is, I hadn’t even graduated from film school at this point so these rumours were starting like ‘Phil dropped out of film school to become a DJ.’ I was telling them that it was all part of the filmmaking master plan but they didn’t believe me,” says McKie.

      This year, the festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary with an impressive lineup of online international and Canadian programming. From August 5 to 25, virtual audiences will have the chance to stream captivating films spanning a variety of genres by talented artists, including McKie.

      Fantasia International Film Festival

      The very first edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival took place in 1996 and the following year, McKie attended the screenings as a child.

      “I’ve gone religiously ever since,” he says. “By the time I was committed to being a filmmaker, I would be sitting in one of the theatres and it was the ultimate experience of appreciating movies with other cinephiles. To think of myself being on the other side and having my own film playing, I’m still wrapping my head around it. Dreams on Fire and the festival are so sacred to me.”

      Aside from his features, McKie has produced several short films, two of which were previously presented at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Breaker is a sci-fi short coming in under 11 minutes and Be my First is a romance with a dramatic spin.

      The 25th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will be presented by Videotron in collaboration with Desjardins. It will be made possible thanks to the financial assistance of the Government of Quebec, SODEC, Telefilm Canada, the City of Montreal, the Conseil des arts of Montreal, and Tourism Montréal.

      For more information, visit