Japan – June 30th 2012 – Aoki Fireworks

Discover Hanabi

Designed by Hideo Hirayama FireOne Ultra firing with 220 32-cue modules

Perfect summer weather greeted the new recruit from Japan, tasked with opening the 28th Edition of the Montreal International Fireworks Competition. Appearing first in the competition is never an easy task and, for Aoki, this also represented their first participation in an international competition. That they had assembled one of the most complex displays, based on cue count, in the history of the competition also added to the pressure. When I interviewed Hideo, he was very focussed on making a good impression on behalf of his compatriots but noted that his main aim was to demonstrate the new Japanese art of the pyromusical.

It is easy to have preconceived ideas as to how a pyromusical should be structured, but those preconceptions, somehow, have to be removed when viewing such a display as presented by Aoki. The traditional Japanese method of presenting a  fireworks display could be summarized by the phrase “exhibition style” – in which single or small volleys of shells are fired with sufficient time to appreciate the artisanship of each product.  I believe Hideo attempted to meld this traditional style with music and other firing techniques to give us a glimpse of how the art of the pyromusical has evolved in Japan.

There was a tense beginning to the display as, when the countdown was over and the music began, no fireworks appeared for what seemed like a long time. This gave some of us to worry that the complexity was just too high and had defeated the infrastructure at La Ronde. But then the fireworks began with some very interesting nautical effects that moved over the surface of the lake.

Very quickly, the complex setup came to life with fantastic waves of one-shots, building patterns in the sky in the shape of Mt Fuji, or waves crashing over an ocean. The effects were brilliant and the timing flawless. Together with these incredible one-shots, shells climbing high into the air and exploding exactly on cue – when there were flights of two or more shells, they all ascended to the same altitude and burst together. One could wonder in amazement at the craftsmanship that had gone into them. Hideo had warned me that he wouldn’t be using traditional Japanese pattern shells and this was the case, but the shells had their own forms and intricate patterns and effects within. Some shells changed colours up to seven times or had four concentric pistils, also changing colour. Or combinations of stars and comets turning to strobes. And what a selection of strobes! Brilliant colours and flashing at many different rates from fast twinkling to slower flashing.

The music, despite being completely unknown to me, seemed to work perfectly with the fireworks – the two complementing and harmonizing with each other. Some pieces were hauntingly atmospheric and, when combined with some of the amazing types of strobes or horsetails (or both) produced intense emotions, strong enough to evoke tears in myself and others around me! Many different types of horsetail shells were used, the most dramatic ones ending in go-getters, to the astonishment of the audience.

At times, the traditional Japanese exhibition style of shooting came to the fore, with just volleys of three 8″ shells, all given time to fully develop their glorious effects. Perhaps some more support from low-level effects would have been appreciated, but, again, that’s the preconceptions coming through. When the low-level effects were present, they were always dramatic, and often augmented by fantastic barrages of shells above. Colours, of course, were rich and pure. One small criticism, though, is that, especially in the early part of the display, too much time was given to dim charcoal effects. These never work well at La Ronde because there is just too much ambient light to allow them to be fully appreciated – as they would be if the sky were jet-black. Other criticisms that could be levelled were that there was too much repetition of similar types of effects: strobes, horsetails and certain patterns of shells.

The finale was somewhat short, but very dramatic, as were the carefully chosen 12″ shells, each given time to be appreciated in all of its glory. The audience reaction was very positive as this was a hugely enjoyable display and a memorable opening to the season. Kudos to Aoki for demonstrating their interpretation of the art of the pyromusical.

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