It was one of those days when I did not really expect any extraordinary to happen… until I got invited to interview the amazing, superbly talented multi-instrumentalist Yoshiki of X Japan who – at the time – was visiting London to promote Stephen Kijak’s (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of) gripping documentary about the band’s heart-breaking voyage to success and fame: We Are X.
My admiration of X Japan started a few years ago, when I first set my eyes and ears on the acoustic show put on by Yoshiki (grand piano) and Toshi (vocals); it was love at first sight. The music, the vocals, even the English lyrics – all of it was mind-blowing, and I could right there and then comprehend why they have millions of fans around the world. Undoubtedly, X Japan is one of a kind; they are a legend, a band that has managed to achieve success at a scale that other musicians can only dream of.
Even before the interview, I knew that the conversation with Yoshiki would be an interesting one. Since we met on the day of the premiere of We Are X, we first chatted about that project. Many are not aware that before Stephen Kijak considered the band as the subject of the documentary, he did not know either Yoshiki or X Japan, as Yoshiki explained. “It was my US agent who suggested that we should make a documentary which would tell the story of the band. He then introduced me to the film’s producer John Battsek, who’s an Executive Producer of Searching for Sugar Man, and then John introduced me to Stephen.”
From Yoshiki’s point of view, Stephen’s lack of knowledge about the band was an advantage: “Stephen has many amazing documentaries under his belt; he had no previous knowledge about X Japan, so he learned a lot about the members of the band while filming We Are X. I wanted this film to not only be for our fans, but for it to be for everyone, so him not knowing the band was kind of perfect.”
The documentary reveals many tragic stories, such as the struggle to cope with suicide in family, the deaths of band’s members Taji Sawada and Hide Matsumoto, and individual issues within the artists’ lives. With such issues brought out into the open, it makes one wonder whether the members were afraid of being excessively exposed to the outside world. Was there enough trust between the filmmaker and X Japan to allow for him to make such a personal film? According to Yoshiki, there was. “I had an instinct,” he stated. He knew that trusting Stephen with the musicians’ stories was a wise move, but even so, “To open the door to our past was painful,” exclaimed Yoshiki.
The story of the band is heart-rending; with the many tragedies that the artists experienced, they proved that you can survive even the toughest times in your life. As Yoshiki himself said: “With all the drama we saw and experienced, you know… We are still here.”
The We Are X documentary is truly an honest portrayal of the journey that Yoshiki, Toshi and their fellow members had to go through while climbing the music industry ladder. I asked Yoshiki whether the film brought him any closure and if – by finally expressing his buried feelings and worries (namely, his struggle to understand why his father took his own life, and dealing with the deaths of Taji and Hide) – he managed to close a painful chapter of his life. Did he manage to chase the pain away? Yoshiki’s answer was not definite: “Kind of. Of course I cannot overcome the pain inside me, but the film was a shock therapy, it helped me to take the next step towards my future. I decided to co-exist with my pain, rather than to chase it away.”
Stephen Kijak’s film contains many archival footage from 1980 and 1990s, including press conferences. Yoshiki stated with a laugh: “We are always filming, always, it is crazy, we have some analogue stuff hidden, it is not even digital. Tapes, video tapes, it is a very big room. I must say that Stephen Kijak found really good material from all of the archival footage we have.”
Before We Are X premiered in the European cinemas, X Japan had a one-off concert at the prestigious Wembley Arena, and attending it was a must for me. The entire show was breathtaking, Toshi’s vocals were superb, better than ever before, and at some point, Yoshiki’s charisma and charm took over the show. It was very well staged, and the drumming, the singing and the solo piano moments were beautifully arranged. During our interview, Yoshiki himself stated: “Well, I am a perfectionist and I am spontaneous, and when I play, I like to take people on some kind of a journey. I want X Japan to give it our all on the stage and to our audience.”
Apart from his drumming, Yoshiki is also famous for being a piano-playing prodigy. But which of the two instruments really reflects his persona the most? “I think I need both to express my feelings. I have also been playing trumpet for the past five years, but I am not good at it,” laughed Yoshiki. “Playing a guitar also helps me to express myself; I think I really do need all of these instruments to express my feelings.”
When we as fans look at any of the X Japan studio albums, we see them as something extraordinary. We do not really consider the recording process or how it could have been done differently, but Yoshiki always does just that and sometimes, he naturally wishes that the band’s songs turned out better. With a laugh, he admitted: “I always think about it; it almost took us 20 years to complete one of our albums. Of course you want everything to be perfect, you might have some regrets after recording, etc. But at the end of the day, you gotta capture the perfect moment when recording.”
Yoshiki has previously also recorded 3 solo albums, titled Eternal Melody, Eternal Melody II and Yoshiki Classical; can we expect his 4th full-length album to be released in the near future? “Yes, I have composed several songs already, but I also composed a symphony. I look forward to releasing the album in a couple years or so”. And as we, the fans, look forward to that, we also look forward to Yoshiki and X Japan returning to the UK!
We would like to thank Yoshiki for his time and for being such a wonderful and interesting person to talk to. View of the Arts would also like to thank AR:PR for arranging the interview with the artist.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Courtesy of the artist and X Japan