X-JAPAN – drummer and the band leader Yoshiki discusses the new movie “We Are X”.

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Interview by Marko Syrjala and Arto Lehtinen

Pics by Marko Syrjala

When we are speaking of the Japanese metal and rock scene, people always voice out Loudness. Instead, X-Japan has gained almost monumental status in the land of the rising sun. The band has gone through several tragic losses, experienced incredible success, and even split up for ten years. X-Japan returned about ten years ago by having the ultimate reactions by the fans. The document movie “We Are X” is such a unique and exciting story about the band and its ups and downs. It’s definitely worth checking by everyone, whether you know anything about X Japan or not. The band’s leader, drummer, pianist, and the main composer, Yoshiki, visited Finland in early October, promoting the movie. Here’s in brief, what the man had to tell about the film, the future of X Japan and various other interesting topics as well.



I just saw the movie, and that was such a unique experience. I have seen a lot of documentaries and films about various bands and persons, but this was something different, I would say, in a positive way. My question is, what was the main reason for you to do such a big but also very personal project at this stage of your career?

Yoshiki: I didn’t want to make this film because our life story is so painful, almost too painful to be credibility faithful. But at the same time, people around me convinced me that it’s like this story that can help other people’s lives. After years of talking, like, “What should we do?” But anyway, actually a few years ago people finally convinced me to make this film. Again, this movie can give people the courage to move on. So, that’s the reason we tried to do this, but before that, there was too much drama, you know.

How was it when the cameras were following you all the time? Did you have to say sometimes, “Not now,” or was it just something that you agreed to do when you decided to do that movie?

Yoshiki: I’m pretty much used to that, like now “Laughs” ( Pointing out at the camera ed. note). Yeah, I’m okay with that, yeah. But the interview was tough to do. Especially when I was talking about my friend’s death or my father’s death or something like that, that’s terrible stuff to do, you know?

Are you satisfied with how the documentary turned out, or do you feel like something was left unsaid?

Yoshiki: For the film to capture our story, you need probably like, not 100 minutes, but 100 hours of material. I think the director and producer did a fantastic job capturing one of the main moments of our career, even though those painful moments, of X Japan’s story. I got some messages, or they also left some notes, because of this film, “I decided to live,” or “I decided not to kill myself,” something like that. So, we got that kind of message so, I have to say that I’m pretty satisfied.

As you said, you had plenty of material to choose from so, how long time did it take to go through everything? It must have been a crazy amount of work to do!

Yoshiki: Yeah, I mean, we used to have that stuff on tapes. It’s not digital stuff, right? So, we had piles of those and enough tapes to fill this room with those, right? Thus, when the director, Stephen, started to create this film, including archiving and editing, I said, “Good luck.” He freaked out, like, “Bugger,” you know. He didn’t know what he was getting into “Laughs, ” But anyway, there was a ton of material.

When you’re now watching the old material from the heydays of X Japan from the early ’90s or the late ’80s, what kind of memories did you get when going through that old stuff?

Yoshiki: I would say that it was kind of sad, but at the same time, there were some happy moments as well. I mean, I didn’t go through all this stuff. I almost handed everything to the director and the producer. So, I was not involved in the process of creating this film. I tried to be more the subject than a creator or a producer because, you know, it was too painful for me to even think of that story and everything.

As you have this excellent documentary out, do you think that success and the interest towards X Japan are increasing in different parts of the world because of the movie, and you’re getting more headlines around the world than 30 years ago?

Yoshiki: Yeah, we didn’t make this film for that kind of reason, but the result is that we are getting an enormous reaction worldwide because of this movie. Yes, I think our music is somehow spreading through this film as well. I think we are fortunate as a band.

Last week, based on this documentary, The Time’s magazine had the headline quote saying, “X Japan: The World’s Unluckiest Band.” What are your thoughts on this? Do you think this expression is accurate?

Yoshiki: They can say that, but, I mean, we could be the unluckiest, or maybe the most dramatic band in the world? But at the same time, after all those years, we have so many amazing fans worldwide, and our fan base is still increasing. So, you can also say we could be the luckiest band in the world. You know, our life’s not done yet, right? So, everything depends on how we do in the future. So again, we could be the luckiest band in the world.

X Japan band in 2016


If I’ve learned right, you’re going to release the new X Japan album soon. What is the state of that project at the moment?

Yoshiki: You’re right. We are about to finish recording our new album, which is our first album over 20 years or something? So, most likely, we are going to be releasing an album sometime next spring. Then the rest, it depends on my health condition. We may do a full tour, but I had neck surgery five months ago, the artificial disk was put into my neck. So, I’m still recovering from that. Also, I can’t play drums now, but I think I’m going to find a way to play drums again. It’s going to be the first album actually towards the world. We’ve never released the album… We released the records only in Japan, but the soundtrack of the first album was released across the globe. I’m very excited, but at the same time a little nervous, because, you know, how am I going to be able to play drums from now on. But, we’ll see.

So, in the film, you explained what has happened and what you did between 1997 and 2007, but how about the more recent things, like the symphony orchestra stuff. Are you doing that stuff too?

Yoshiki: Yes, this year I had two Carnegie Hall shows in New York. I played those shows with Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. We did mostly my compositions there. Some of the compositions were from a concerto, which I wrote for the Japanese Emperor, some are the ones I wrote for the Golden Globes Awards in America, and we also did the composition which I wrote for the World Expo. Also, we did several X Japan songs, but classical versions, and some Tchaikovsky and Beethoven too. Those were very memorable shows. Also, this year I played with X-Japan in London, Wembley Arena. That was an essential show too. Then, two months later, actually, five months ago, I had neck surgery. But I made sure it didn’t stop me, so I kept recording and recording the new X Japan album until it was finished. Also, as soon as the new record was finished, I’ve started collaborating with Marilyn Manson; we’ve been writing some songs together. But right now, I’m busy with this “We Are X” film promotion.


The visual side has always been a big part of the X Japan image and presence. Did it ever become a bigger part of the band than the music?

Yoshiki: Of course, the music needs to come first, but the visual side has been essential for us. You know, when we do the show, you also dress up the stage. So why don’t we dress up ourselves as well, no? We are very influenced by KISS or David Bowie. So, yeah, being visual is an essential part of us.

Speaking about KISS, I heard that back in 1977, you saw KISS performing at Budokan Hall, Tokyo, and that changed your life forever.

Yoshiki: Yeah, I saw KISS then.

Yeah, and later on, you even collaborated with them for their KISS MY ASS album. You did “Black Diamond” with the orchestra on that record.

Yoshiki: “Black Diamond,” yes. I made the KISS album into a piano concerto. So, I was lucky to do that. I was fortunate to know some members of KISS.

During the early days of X Japan, you sometimes covered songs from other groups and played them in concerts. One of these songs was called “Tragedy” by a famous band called …

Yoshiki: Hanoi Rocks. How did you know that? Is there something on YouTube or something? I completely forgot about it, but I just remembered, that, yeah, I used to cover that, Hanoi Rocks. I loved that song; I kept listening to it, listening, listening. You know, I think I have that album. That was pretty much their first album or something?

Hanoi Rocks was a kind of big band in Japan at that time. Did you know that they’re from Finland?

Yoshiki: I didn’t know that; it’s so cool. So, are Hanoi Rocks from Finland? And so are the Moomis, too, right?

X Japan in the late ’80s. Yoshiki pictured in the middle


Going back to the band’s very early days, do you still remember where the name “X” originally came from? And do you remember if there were any other name choices at the time?

Yoshiki: We couldn’t figure out what our name should be, so we named it “X” temporarily. We eventually found out that “X” means infinite possibilities or something like this. So, that’s why we started calling it “X.” Then, because we kept trying and trying under the name, even though it was hard to struggle, we also believed that nothing was impossible. So that’s why I kept that name, “X.” Then when we went to America, and they’re already was a band called “X.” So, we used to call “X from Japan,” but it was too long, so we got rid of “from, ” and we said “X Japan.” Yeah, then we’re happy with the name.

In the movie, there is a scene that says that X Japan was the first internationally successful Japanese rock metal band, but there were a couple of other bands before, like Loudness. How familiar were you with those guys?

Yoshiki: I’m completely familiar with Loudness. They are an amazing band, first of all, even though we got into a fight a couple of times. I mean, they were around a way before us, and they are fantastic musicians. But they are more like a very traditional hard rock, if you can categorize that. Of course, when X Japan used to be called “X,” when we started emerging on the scene, we came from a punk rock background and new wave and heavy metal, and we just mixed everything. So, we got attacked by a lot of journalists and critics. At the same time, we couldn’t get along anywhere. So, when I first met Loudness, they couldn’t figure out who we are. Anyways, there was one party, I just lost it. I got into a massive fight with them, even though I respect them so much. Then eventually, Taiji, when he left X Japan, actually he joined Loudness. So, I think they are still very active, so I have much respect towards them. They are one of the first bands in Japan who started to play rock. I think it’s pretty much one of the first rock bands, hard rock bands in Japan. So yes, I respect them so much.

Loudness has been in Finland a couple of times.

Yoshiki: Oh really? How big is Loudness here?

They are doing fine here, and they have played here three years here in a row.

Yoshiki: They have a fantastic guitar player. Akira Takasaki.

So, it’s time to ask the last question. If your health allows it, is there any chance that we’re going to see X Japan doing shows in Europe shortly?

Yoshiki: Oh, there’s a big chance for that

I asked that because I just heard that you would have a meeting with local promoters later tonight?

Yoshiki: That is only a rumor “Laughs.”

Thank you, Manna and Silke, for arranging the interview with Yoshiki