The augmented-experience entertainment, STAR ISLAND, had 15,000 visitors this year to end in great applause this year again; this event is the greatest combination of fireworks, music, performance and high-end technologies like 3D sound and lighting, and the whole world is paying attention.
The organizers of this spectacle are a figure who contributed to the success of ULTRA in Japan, Kenji Kohashi, the creative director promoting various famous events (the right on the photo), and a business producer of Avex Entertainment Inc., Shigeyoshi Sakamoto (the left on the photo).
We had a great chance to ask them about the attractiveness of STAR ISLAND; what inspires people and why, their philosophy and passion about this event and proposal for the future.
It’s not only “firework festival” or “an event” anymore; so, what is “STAR ISLAND”?
Sound invokes vision; music tells a story
—So, what’s your feeling about the STAR ISLAND this year?
Kohashi: The venue changed from Odaiba to Toyosu, so it was almost something new from scratch although this was the 3rd event in Tokyo. When a venue changes, everything including possibility of performance and arrangement of seats, let alone the rules unique for each ward. Also, ahead of the Olympic, new restrictions and rules have been added, which prohibited something we could did last year. On the other hand, however, we had something possible because it was at Toyosu, but nonetheless we got at a loss when seeing the venue for the first time.
—It was tough to arrange the venue, right?
Sakamoto: Actually, much before that, we had difficulty to decide where the venue should be. STAR ISLAND is particular about the place to performance as “Location Entertainment”.
Kohashi: We had many issues, but moving to Toyosu allowed us to let the audience watch spectacular firework as close as 200 meters before them, which impressed them so much that I think it was a right decision.
—First of all, it must be difficult to synchronize firework and music, or not?
Kohashi: It is, although such a technique has existed for a long time. However, just following suit is not always the answer; we sometimes should set off fireworks behind the beat like some music pieces do. Contemporary people often listen to many music pieces of various genres, so we should discuss that in detail with pyrotechnicians every time.
—It’s how the combination of music and fireworks mesmerize the audience, isn’t it?
Kohashi: Yes, and that’s the point that the producer, Mr. Uruma, and we are particular about. However, what’s tougher is to make a story with music: For a piece of music, how should we proceed? It’s more or less like making a movie; we can’t focus on just one scene, but a long shot may disconnect pieces. The balance is very difficult, so we don’t only connect pieces like a DJ but also try to invoke scenes by the sound.
—What I found is that music can change how fireworks look and feel; dance music makes them exciting, classic grand, and so on. That’s very interesting and I realized the importance of music again through that.
Kohashi: Your words are the very thing we love, we struggled to achieve.
Make a miracle: Something on the life
—We’ve had various pieces of music; one of the most impressive one was Elton John’s Rocketman, which was perfect for the theme.
Kohashi: Everyone who loves music says so; it may sound strange that we, including Mr. Sakamoto and Mr. Uruma, had a meeting to come up with the theme for this event in January of this year. Then, we had a tentative one like “Space Travel” to excite the audience.
—It is a long time before the theme of this year, “2019: A SPACE ODYSSEY”, was set, right?
Kohashi: Yes. Then the event was supposed to be held in May, but the date changed to July 20th as if something led us; we researched the date and found that Captain Armstrong stepped on the moon. It was like what we call destiny determined it; the theme of this year proceded to everything, not followed.
Sakamoto: When we officially determined the date, we had nothing about stepping on the moon; it was just an available date for us.
—It’s a miracle, isn’t it? And it was sunny on the day unexpectedly.
Kohashi: It also sounds strange that the event in Singapore was held during New Year’s Holidays, which is the rainy season, and that it’d been sunny since the date of implementation. While it began to pour on the very day, the opening dispersed the cloud. STAR ISLAND is something like a ritual of a religion, which may have good for someone in the sky. We know weather forms the atmosphere and mood of people; having an event outside is risky but also a catalyst of miracle because it is on the rail of our daily life.
For something else: passion on the dual world
—The theme of this year is perfect for “STAR ISLAND”; in front of us is the real Tokyo, above us fireworks, and beyond it the universe. Such layers augment the world of “STAR ISLAND”.
Kohashi: When did human beings find the Earth separate from the universe and began to long for the beyond, although we have been and will be always in this universe? Each of us is a star in the universe; I want to share this with people, and therefore the audience put on a lighting band (LED BAND) to be one star altogether at “STAR ISLAND”. Our world does not have anything dividing us — feeling that sense makes the location and lighting performance very important.
—There were various performances which had each meaning, right?
Kohashi: Each has a message inspired by many things, like the festival of Izumo Shrine I visits every year. However, the core concept is the novel by Enrique Barrios, Ami, el niño de las estrellas, whose world of love and harmony a boy was brought to by an alien named Ami. We can’t be the alien to bring the audience to such a place, but we would like them to experience the dual world named “STAR ISLAND” and to take out something from there as a useful souvenir.
Sakamoto: My position is to think about business; thus although my point of view is different from his, I think about what impresses people and how to make it popular and understandable. However, demands from creators are pretty hard for me.
—It’s like a juxtaposition of “ideal” and “real”, isn’t it?
Sakamoto: Each one of us has passion and preference, so we trust someone who is very creative and let them do what they believe to be the best. That’s all.
Making something, changing one’s perspective, changing the whole world
—What do you think the mission of STAR ISLAND is?
Kohashi: The fireworks STAR ISLAND offers are often found something updated from the traditional one, but we see beyond it. First of all, we don’t include the term, “Firework”, in the title, which is because we want to express that the canvas before us holds unlimited possibility and that we can imagine something more than the history, like technology. What can we make in the world of infinity and in the limited nature? It’s our imagination that makes something new and changes our perspectives. The way we see the world define the world; I think the two pillars are important.
—2 Pillars of “Making something” and “Changing one’s perspective”, right?
Kohashi: Firework is just one of our offer, and more we can expect. While we tend to love something new and relegate old to a corner of our memory, our perspective defines our world and daily life. It’s one of messages STAR ISLAND wants to convey.
Sakamoto: I think we are particular about being beyond feeling; for example, when music invokes a scene, the listener is not just listening but feeling beyond something audible. I would say that being beyond value about what is right or wrong will impress people ultimately.
—Will STAR ISLAND be completed? Depends on the definition of “Completion” or “Success”?
Sakamoto: We’ve done this only for 4 times, and another 6 will be needed to think about it; however, I also feel that we will never have what we call success.
—Nothing will satisfy you, I think.
Kohashi: Definitely. One thing interesting comes, and another follows now. Our original concept is much grander than what we have now, which was made of something feasible out of the origin. However, this was shaped not through subtraction or reduction; as this is something for the future, we may augment it when the future comes.
Looking forward to the future, keeping the nature of tradition
—STAR ISLAND will keep on changing as the times will, right?
Kohashi: It’s not unusual that an event has changed and is now different from the first one in the world; for example, South by Southwest is not just a music festival now anymore. I expect STAR ISLAND to follow such festivals. Although I don’t know when the change is made, but I’m really looking forward to it.
Sakamoto: We understand the importance of keeping something, and I want STAR ISLAND to be a culture, an example of lifestyles of people, entertainment and arbor for people in this ever-changing world. I find it crucial to make small steps to increase the audience of this spectacular and experience, let alone branding.
—Do you have a time frame in decades?
Kohashi: I’m not sure what the world is going to be, but the possibility is surely unlimited. We have some pictures of the future, where brand new technologies are combined well with entertainment, and it may be related to how or where audience watch performances or what they smell then. I can’t be sure what it is like, but the next 5 years or 10 will make this world change dramatically, leading to something STAR ISLAND should be a pioneer about.
—What is your opinion like about a concept of STAR ISLAND, combination of revolution and tradition?
Kohashi: I find it necessary to respect the tradition, but some people take advantage of that to advertise, perhaps. Expressing the tradition is necessary but I want to make it more enjoyable and impressive for the people all over the world. Otherwise, what we do is just propagandize, where a tradition is merely a tool and the core value will be lost.
Sakamoto: Traditions kept for a long time often inherit waste through the time, I think. For example, firework has established a stereotype of it, and we have many mysteries in the record. Also, what is updated is always something related to risk and nothing related to entertainment. We should learn from the history to avoid accidents, which is surely important, but we are often backward not to be backward; there, stereotypes stagnate us. Saying that we will get rid of them all will be too much, but I believe that changing one’s perspective will change something else.
The future of STAR ISLAND: foresight ahead of 2020
—2020 sees Olympic in Japan; what will STAR ISLAND be like then?
Sakamoto: Hopefully, it will be great to take place before Olympic. It will be difficult in some aspects, but it deserves the effort as people all over the world pay attention to Tokyo. And I want it to be more global at the same time. To our gladness, several countries in Asia have invited us, which I think is because they are interested in us from the global viewpoint.
—Tokyo in July, Saudi Arabia in September, and Singapore at the end of this year will invite STAR ISLAND; do you think it’s feasible?
Kohashi: It’s almost not, but we must do it anyway, just believing that we can make something impossible possible.
Sakamoto: I think it’s doable because I am in this position; if we say we can’t do it, it will become true.
Kohashi: Any event will be made of 99% of troubles and 1% of possibility, which we believe in and do our best based on.
Sakamoto: The purpose of it is for the audience waiting for us. Although it may sound simple, but what we feel is just to make them moved and aware of us. Every chance can’t be missed.
—What do you think, Mr. Kohashi, ahead of 2020?
Kohashi: I am also a director of Tokyo 2020 NIPPON Festival in Olympic and Paralympic to be involved with many activities, and we will have many events in the next year. I believe that it will be kind of chaos where many people from overseas observe something in Tokyo and that it will change our values in many ways, which change will last even after 2020. This will be an important moment. Of course, we are seeking for the way of holding STAR ISLAND, where we will show entertainment for global people, not traditional Japanese “Hanabi”, and STAR ISLAND as lingua franca. We think we did something in Singapore last year, and we understand that our performance is also impressive for people overseas; 2020 will be the perfect opportunity for us to bring our best.