We Are X is the critically acclaimed music documentary from Stephen Kijak that won a Special Jury Award at Sundance several months ago. If you’ve not heard of X Japan, you’re not alone, but Kijak introduces us to the troubled Japanese rock band, taking us through their history that includes alleged brainwashing cults, the untimely deaths of two band members, thoughts of suicide, and the rollercoaster life and career of Yoshiki, the group’s co-founder, drummer, pianist and leader. The extraordinary events chronicled in We Are X climax with the band’s legendary appearance at Madison Square Garden exactly two years ago this week.
I caught up with Yoshiki recently to talk about the pain of revisiting his dark past, and opening up to Kijak. It’s the day after We Are X premiered in LA and he’s still on a high from a rapturous evening that featured Gene Simmons of KISS hosting the event, along with his music idol, Marilyn Manson. Yoshiki says the whole night was, “Amazing.”
Awards Daily: I love what Stephen Kijak does with the documentary as he introduces us to you. It’s a wonderful journey, and very revealing. How did it happen?
Yoshiki : My agent here in the USA suggested that I do a documentary. At first, I was hesitant because the story has dark moments, and talking about it was painful. Several years later, they convinced me that it would be important to tell our story to the world, as it would give people the courage to move forward. Finally, I said yes, and here we are.
AD: How easy was it for you to open up to Stephen and talk to him?
Y: We had a great producer, John Battsek who’s from the UK. I met Stephen through John, who jumped on the project. Stephen came to our show, and we started doing interviews almost immediately. I couldn’t really open up to him in the beginning. It wasn’t easy at all. It took six interviews for me to really talk to him, and talking to him ended up being rather therapeutic.
AD: What was that like, when you watched it for the first time?
Y: I couldn’t speak and was in tears. I talked about one part of my life that was dark. If you put all those things into a 90-minute documentary, it’s a lot to watch and see in front of you. It was almost like being hit by a truck. But, it was a great documentary and I’m really pleased with the end result.
AD: The centerpiece of We are X is your show at Madison Square Garden. What can you recall about that night and playing there?
Y: I’ve played the Tokyo Dome, but MSG looked so much bigger. I was excited but nervous because it was going to be my first show in the USA.
AD: What venues would you like to play?
Y: We’re playing Wembley Arena in London soon. I’m playing Carnegie Hall in January, and a solo show with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
AD: How exciting! That’s a few great months to look forward to. So, your slogan as a band is “Psychedelic, Violence, Crime and Visual Shock.” Talk about that slogan and who your influences are?
Y: It’s more about just words we loved. There wasn’t anything or anyone in particular who influenced it. The band and I were talking about some words that we loved, but they’re not a reflection of who we are.
AD: What do you want people to take away from the documentary?
Y: That it’s not just another music documentary, it’s a life story. You might not know X Japan, you might not even be a fan of music, but the message is simple, nothing is impossible and you can overcome anything. It gives people the dream of moving forward.
AD: What’s happening with the album. It’s been almost 20 years since your last release.
Y: When we were at Sundance, we were celebrating our best editing prize. I wanted to call Pata, my guitarist to celebrate, but I couldn’t get through to him, and it turns out he was in ICU. As a result of that and his illness, we ended up postponing some concert dates and the release. However, with the release of the documentary here and now, we’re back in the studio, recording. We are hoping to have it out next year.
AD: Why did it take so long, almost 20 years?
Y: We had ten years when we weren’t speaking to each other. I’m a perfectionist and compose a lot, but I only use a few songs. I’m known for being picky. I feel some of the best songs are on this album.
AD: Who would you like to collaborate with?
Y: My dream was David Bowie. I met him briefly. Sadly he passed away. I also always wanted to work with Prince. I was lucky enough to work with George Martin, and he also passed away this year, but we made a classical album together. I’m actually working with Marilyn Manson right now, who came to the LA Premiere the other day.
AD: I love him. Mechanical Animals is actually one of my favorite albums.
Y: It’s just a project we’re working on. I can’t spill much else.