Dancing Mary’s portrayal of an asthma induced death by actress Nozomi Bandô is an unforgettable sight. You desperately want to reach inside the screen with the inhaler Mary needs but can do nothing but watch.
Dancing Mary was screened at Fantaspoa 2021 film festival. This review contains spoilers.
Lights off. Cue backstage where a nimble, light as a feather ballerina starts having a minor coughing fit. Mary fires one puff of her inhaler but it’s empty…
Sudden terrifying panic sets in. Each breath is more difficult to take than the last. Air thinned out, throat closing into the size of a straw. Mary’s hands almost independently search for relief, blindly looking for salvation.
Shifting from one piece of wardrobe and cabinet to the next searching for a backup inhaler. Finding nothing to clasp.
Coughing violently now, Mary is in full hysteria. All the other dancers are onstage while her last spinning twirl becomes a rough tumble to a hardwood floor.
Director SABU, Hiroyuki Tanaka pans to an overhead shot of the Nozomi Bandô collapsed in the dressing room, as each breath grows more shallow until there are no more to take.
This asthma death scene is Dancing Mary’s crown jewel, a middle of the film prologue to the ghost story genre film. Giving intense humanization to Mary’s paranormal haunting of a place that gave her both a spotlight and took it away. Becoming her resting place involuntarily.
Feature Film Background:
Dancing Mary initially opens with a civil servant tasked with the demolition of an old dance hall, where there’s rumored to be a curse by the former dancer.
Thus, demolition company regulars refuse to touch the building, leading to a request made to the Yakuza. Lead character Kenji, played by actor Kataoka Naoto, sets out to look for another way… Discovering teenage student Yukiko, played by Aina Yamada. Yukiko has the ability to see ghosts and share this power with others by holding their hand.
Dancing Mary pays homage to The Sixth Sense, except in this case, it’s some of the Yakuza ghosts in the film that don’t realize they’re actually dead already. Demanding civil servant Kenji take back his words about their death at one point.
Some of Dancing Mary’s ghost scenes are absolutely brutal to watch, including a homeless man’s tale of losing his tent, his home, so Kenji could build a mall there. He ends up dying alone in the back of a warehouse of a cold.
There’s a moment early on in Dancing Mary where Yukiko and Kenji stand at the top of a skyscraper where a seemingly endless line of people walk off to their deaths. One of those pieces of cinematography by Director SABU that will have you thinking long after the film ends.
Yukiko comes to learn during a visit to Mary’s old dance hall that she’s waiting for her boyfriend Johnny, played by Kaito Yoshimura, to return. In a flashback you see Mary was is actually deaf and uses vibrations as cues to dance, was surprised by Johnny with an apartment for them to move into. She tells Johnny in sign language that she’ll always wait for him for as long as it takes, forever.
A meeting with the ghost of a former Yakuza leader, played by actor Ryo Ishibashi, betrayed by his clan reveals Johnny is being held in Taiwan. A prisoner due to an attempt of cheating during poker at a gambling den. The former Yakuza clan leader helps Yukiko and Kenji find Johnny in a traditional martial art style action scene. Resembling Kill Bill’s iconic battle scene in western film terms.
Dancing Mary often plays introspectively on the idea of investing yourself fully into a passion. Two cancer addled patients early on in the film accusing Kenji of just living but not being alive. That they live their lives to the fullest in the hospital more than he does being a civil servant outside. That he’s neither passionate about his job or even having fun, his whole life caught in static.
When civil servant Kenji is eventually forced to press the button to demolish the dance hall against his will… He screams that he’s never known the glory of winning or the pain of defeat until now. Crying uncontrollably, realizing his life has passed before his eyes while he rode in the passenger seat and let someone else drive it.
This film is part of Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival of Porto Alegre. Which runs for free on the streaming platform Darkflix, from April 9th through the 18th. All film screenings are geo-blocked to Brazil, with additional details available at www.fantaspoa.com.
– This is Dancing Mary’s Brazilian premiere and first Latin American premiere in South America.