X Japan’s documentary, We are X, kicks off its San Francisco premiere at a sold-out film event on Tuesday, October 25, 2016, at the Mezzanine, attracting hundreds of excited fans.
Presented by Drafthouse Films, the event program includes a live performance by Yoshiki, X Japan’s leader, along with a Q&A session with both Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak, the director of the film.
The documentary highlights and recaptures the dramatic history of X Japan over the course of the past 3 decades, starting from the birth of the band, through its heart-wrenching changes that eventually led to disbandment, to finally X Japan’s glorious rebirth. This long-awaited film offers a rare and intimate glimpse at the more personal side of the legendary rock band, including first-person commentaries from Yoshiki, the members of X Japan, and those involved.
As eager fans are seated and opening remarks made, the film begins with Yoshiki on screen recalling childhood memories of him often questioning about his own existence.
“What is human?” He would ask his mother, “Who am I?”
“You’re human,” his mother replies. “You’re Yoshiki.”
Who is X Japan?
The name “Yoshiki” is synonymous with heavy metal rock music in Japan and all over Asia over the past 30 years. Studying classical music since the age of 4, Yoshiki began playing the drums at the age of 9, shortly after the sudden death of his father.
In 1982, Yoshiki co-founded X Japan, formally known as X, a renowned Japanese visual kei heavy metal rock band. Yoshiki is the face and icon as the band’s leader, drummer, pianist, and main composer. His compositions intricately balance and combine his music background of the two genres, between heavy metal rock and classical music, creating a genre that is unique to both Yoshiki and X Japan.
X Japan is still the inspiration for many aspiring and successful Japanese rock musicians today. Considered as the pioneers of visual kei or visual style, a movement among Japanese musicians often characterized by contemporary and extravagant hairstyles, makeup, and costumes similar to western glam rock, X Japan sold over 30 million albums and performed a record 18 times at the Tokyo Dome, an outdoor arena in Japan which seats 55,000. From Yoshiki destroying his drum set after performing just one song to jumping off the stage into a sea of fans, X Japan’s exhilarating concerts and performances are often characterized by thousands of fans making an “X” with their forearms which symbolizes the band’s name, jumping along to the band’s captivating songs and Yoshiki’s powerful drum performances.
As X Japan’s popularity gained momentum in Japan and all over Asia in the late 1980s, the band faces heartbreaking drama, which included death, suicide, and brainwashing, all combined which lead to the group’s disbandment in 1997.
Ten years later, X Japan reunites in 2007 and is currently active today.
“We Are X”
Premiered in other parts of the world including Hong Kong and London, We are X have been invited to over 20 film festivals around the world, all with positive feedback.
“I didn’t want to make this film in the beginning,” admits Yoshiki as he sits down for a quick interview with me before his performance at the San Francisco premiere. “Our story is too painful to talk about and too crazy to be true.”
Several years in the talks and suggested by Yoshiki’s American agency, the documentary began filming immediately when Yoshiki was finally convinced by those around him to start this project. Although there’s discomfort in recalling the dramatic episodes that happened, he felt the story should be addressed and told.
The agency introduced him to music documentary director, Stephen Kijak. Kijak has a history of working with musicians including the Backstreet Boys and Scott Walkers, but was completely new to Japanese rock and X Japan.
“Actually, it was better that it was somebody that didn’t know X Japan. We can completely start from zero,” Yoshiki explains.
Since X Japan began American activities, working on this documentary was also an opportunity to discover or rediscover the band from the very beginning.
“I didn’t want this film to be a horror film,” Yoshiki commented. “I hope this film leaves a positive feeling to those watching.”
As one of the rare outlets where Yoshiki displays his most honest and raw thoughts to the events that happened, he admits that it was difficult for him to share a more vulnerable side of himself for the film.
“At the beginning, I didn’t open my heart doing interviews. I was kind of avoiding the subject,” Yoshiki admits. “But after a few interviews, I opened the door all the way. I said ‘ask me anything’.”
Even though the history of Yoshiki and X Japan may be disheartening, Yoshiki hopes this film can inspire others through difficult times and hopefully save lives.
“Nothing is impossible,” says Yoshiki. “We went through a lot of painful and tragic moments, but we are still here and still rocking. I want our fans to know to keep your dreams alive. Anything is possible.”
Projects in the East and West
In October 2014, X Japan performed at the Madison Square Garden in New York City, a dream and an ambition of X Japan from the 1990s of entering the U.S. market which was never fulfilled due to the series of tragic and unfortunate events that followed.
Yoshiki provides an incredibly encouraging response when I asked him during the interview on his thoughts on whether he anticipates any challenges that came with the increase of U.S. activities for the band, compared to those faced in the 1990s.
“There are so many amazing bands and groups now, (for example), also a lot of K-POP groups conquering the world; I think that’s great. So I don’t see these days any struggles as much as we did like twenty years ago,” he expresses. “If there was a wall between the East and West, that wall is getting thinner and thinner, and lower and lower.”
Although the average American or American rock music lover may not be familiar with Yoshiki or X Japan despite their success and impressive resume, Yoshiki has worked on many well-known U.S. projects over the course of the past two decades.
Yoshiki’s American projects include composing the soundtrack for the 2007 film Catacombs starring Pink and Shannyn Sossamon, writing the soundtrack for Saw IV, producing the rock musical Repo! The Genetic Opera starring Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton, composing the Golden Globe Awards theme song, collaborating with the energy drink, Rockstar, and many more. Yoshiki also features in his own comic book series written by the well-known American comic book writer, Stan Lee.
Back in Japan, Yoshiki regularly collaborates with Sanrio with his own Hello Kitty doll named, Yoshikitty.
Earlier this year, Yoshiki composed and produced a highly fan-anticipated song with Seiko Matsuda (松田聖子) , a well-known singer and songwriter in Japan. In the late 1980s, Matsuda was considered one of the goddesses of Japanese pop music, along with singers such as Momoe Yamaguchi (山口百恵) and Akina Nakamori (中森明菜), whose popularity was not only widespread in Japan, but overseas in places such as Hong Kong.
“She (Matusda) kind of approached me and asked me if I was interested in writing a song for her,” Yoshiki explains, “I said ‘sure’ and I wanted to create something that was a really Japanese-styled song.”
The song titled, “Bara no you ni saite, sakura no you ni chitte (薔薇のように咲いて 桜のように散って)” or translated in English, “Bloom like Roses, Fall like Cherry Blossoms”, was featured as a soundtrack for the Japanese drama, Seisei Suruhodo, Aishiteru (せいせいするほど, 愛してる) or the English title, For the Romantic, a drama that features the collaboration with the fine jewelry brand, Tiffany, and internationally renowned fashion designer, Jimmy Choo.
This past October, Yoshiki’s own kimono brand, Yoshikimono, graces the fashion runway and opens for Toyko Fashion Week.
“If you Google it, you’ll be shocked,” shares Yoshiki.
Along with showcasing elegant traditional kimono styles, the line’s eye-catching new contemporary styles feature tube-top cuttings and shorter skirt lengths, a daring and modern approach to the designs of the traditional Japanese clothing.
After our interview, Yoshiki appears on stage after the documentary screening and begins playing X Japan’s beloved classics on the piano, including “Endless Rain” which fans sang along to the chorus near the end of the song. The interview with both Yoshiki and Kijak regarding the film and project begins, followed by opening the floor to fans for questions.
“You say that a swan only sings once before they die,” a fan asks. “What would be your last song?”
Yoshiki charmingly reassures fans with a witty answer, “I haven’t worked on that song yet.”
Many fans expressed their gratitude for Yoshiki, X Japan, and their music as a life-changer, for giving them the strength the fans needed during difficult times and experiences, which is a commonality among X Japan fans. Others brought memorabilia from dolls to X Japan’s first CD, hoping for a signature or a photo.
Particularly, a Japanese fan approached the microphone and asks Yoshiki about his experience living in the U.S. in the past twenty years. As an international student studying in San Francisco, she expresses her frustration and challenges as she couldn’t fully express herself well in English after living in the U.S. this past year.
“I moved to the U.S. when I was 30 and really started to learn and speak English then,” Yoshiki explains. “You look like you’re still young, so don’t worry. It will take some time.”
Yoshiki also encourages her regarding learning a new language, “Don’t be so conscious about your pronunciation or whether or not you think you’re speaking poorly. It takes practice.”
Fighting back tears, Yoshiki thanks his fans for their unconditional support even after all these years. He reiterates that the documentary is called We are X because he and the band members alone couldn’t have created the story of X Japan, it was the fans and those involved together who made it possible. To thank American fans, Yoshiki performs his piano rendition of “Star-Spangled Banner”.
Yoshiki concludes by announcing his solo classical concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall featuring the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra on January 12 & 13, 2017.
X Japan is also scheduled to perform at the SSE Arena in Wembly, London on Saturday, March 4, 2017 as part of X Japan’s World Tour 2017.
Final Editorial Thoughts
Big thanks to Yoshiki and his staff for making time in their hectic schedule to sit down with me and KPOP-TV for an open and honest interview.
Although X Japan’s story is indeed “too painful to talk about, too crazy to be true”, We are X shows a more human side of the band, telling a story that can inspire those watching with the positivity to persevere and find light in times of darkness.
At the end of the day, super rock stars are humans, too. The relatability of X Japan’s story and music undeniably transcends and speaks to their fans, even encouraging and possibly saving the lives of others.
I believe one of the lines in the lyrics of “Bloom like Roses, Fall like Cherry Blossoms”, which Yoshiki wrote, perfectly expresses the message that they are trying to relay with X Japan’s story:
“人は誰でも きっと 夜に壊れて 夜明けに泣いて”, which roughly translates to, “As humans, surely anyone can break as night falls, and cry as dawn breaks.”
As humans, within our weakness, there’s strength. As long as you cherish life, “nothing is impossible.”
With X Japan’s World Tour in 2017 and Yoshiki’s Classical Concert pt. II scheduled, I look forward to the future activities and projects of X Japan. Because X Japan isn’t a rock band that is 30 years old, they are only 30 years young.
Check out the full coverage and interview with Yoshiki on KPOP-TV:
Related Posts: You can check out the interview I had with Yoshiki back in 2014 at San Francisco’s Davis Symphony Hall for his Classical Tour here.