SXSW Interview: Yoshiki from X Japan talks about the new music documentary We Are X

Japanese rock band X Japan have had a tumultuous and downright devastating career. Plagued by the subsequent deaths of band members, the band led by Yoshiki, soldiers on and still find success to this day.

A documentary has been made chronicling the dramatic life of X Japan called We Are X. Larry sat down with Yoshiki to talk about it.

Larry: Yoshiki, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Yoshiki: Thank you so much for having me.

We’re here to talk about something you don’t normally talk about and that’s film. A fantastic documentary has been made about your musical career in X Japan. I guess to start with, tell us a little bit about how the documentary started and when you first knew that it was being made.

My agent in America, his name is Marc Geiger, I’ve known him for a long time, he’s been my agent and also a friend of mine. We were talking about X Japan’s career and he said, “you need to create a documentary about X Japan because X Japan’s story is too crazy to be true. I kind of agreed but its kind of hard for me to open that door, going back, that memory because its such a sad story.
It took like 5 or 6 years for me to say yes and then everything started. We contacted John Battsek, who’s in England. He produced a film called Searching for Sugar Man.  So then he contacted Stephen Kijak, hes a director, he directed a Rolling Stones documentary and several more –

Backstreet Boys last year I believe as well.

That one too! Wow you know everything. Exactly, so that’s how everything started.

I understand that he didn’t know who you were before he was approached to do the documentary.

Right, right. Actually, he joined our team several days before our Madison Square Garden show which is a main part of (the documentary).

That’s what brings it all together to the present day.

Yeah, he didn’t know what he was getting into. [Laughs]

Yes, the Pandora’s Box that he was opening. Its a great way for him to pull the film together because obviously you’re jumping through such a broad and long history. And as you mentioned, a lot of very sad moments throughout the film as well. Are you able to sit through the whole film and relive it? Is it a hard film to watch?

The first time when I saw it, I cried a lot. The second time I saw it, I cried a lot too. Probably the next time I watch it, I’m going to cry a lot. It’s a very painful film for me but at the same time, gave me a very positive feeling toward the end.

Along side those sad moments, like you said it’s a story “almost too crazy to be true”, the level of success and what you’ve been able to achieve is remarkable so there must be that feeling as well, looking back retrospectively as much as some things have happened that have been sad and unfortunate, there have been some incredible things as well. The MSG concert no exception. 

Right, I almost feel like there’s another me, Yoshiki, watching that story, like the audience, watching another person. Its a very strange feeling. Like did that actually happen to my life or is everything a dream. Its almost like a very – again, its too crazy to be true. It’s like “am I going to wake up one day and everything is just a dream?”

Was there anything that wasn’t told in the story that you would have liked to have seen told in the story? Because obviously there is only so much time they can fit in and there’s a lot to talk about.

If you start talking about every little detail, you’ll need a documentary that’s 24 hours long or like a TV series but I think that 90 mins pretty much – I mean it has the main things that happened to our lives.

And what do you hope your fans and the fans of X Japan take away from the film? Obviously as the film shows, the level of passion in your fans is unrivalled.

Well for sure when our fans watch the film, they wanna have – the film is going to impact the fans in various ways but at the same time the people who have no idea about X Japan can get some kind of impact from this film. Stephen made this film for not only our existing fans, he made this film for a broader audience so I think that people can enjoy – even though they don’t know what X Japan is. “Is this a band?” Even those people can relate to their lives I think.

And you were talking about the fans at home. Has the film been shown there at all? At home in japan.

Not at all. The first time we showed the film was at the Sundance Festival in January and this is the second time. We are expecting the film to be out sometime this fall throughout the world I guess.

You were talking about the idea of first time fans, new fans. And everything I read about the film, and my own experience hearing of you and knowing some of your music but not knowing the story at all , do you think that the director not knowing you previously, that aided an angle “This is who this band is because I’m just learning this as well. I want you to learn this and share in this story because it an incredible one”?

I think so, I think it aided that direction. I thought that was cool too because I know what happened to my life, X Japan’s life. If we worked with a director who had known X Japan, they might have approached it differently but because Steven didn’t know anything about X Japan I thought that was great because he is also in a learning process that he created for the film so that’s why this film can approach people who have no idea about X Japan as well.

No pre conceived notions which is fantastic. So this week you were supposed to release a new record, you’ve delayed that I understand because of an unfortunate health issue with one of your members. Are you going to wait till next year to release the album? I know the show at Wembley stadium has been delayed.

Yeah so it was delayed till next March 2017, because on of our guitarists, his name is Pata, went to ICU earlier this year. He’s recovering, he’s getting better but he’s still hospitilised. We postponed almost a year for the show but the album part, yes, we were meant to release the album this week but we are still working on it but we probably want to release it sometime this fall. We’re not gonna wait till net Wembley so we will release it this fall and then we want to start touring .

Hopefully you can fit Australia in on that tour when you get back on the road.

That would be wonderful.

Have you ever been down to Australia before?

I don’t think so. I would love to, there is a festival there and we were approached before. But yeah I always wanted to go.

Oh, Soundwave, I heard they were trying to get you many years ago.

Yes! Soundwave. So yeah we’d be very interested.

Well hopefully we can get you down there. So for fans of the music and for yourselves, what was it like recording again? I know that you’ve recorded a couple of singles over the last decade but actually getting in and making a full record. That must have been a hard step to take with everything that happened.

Yeah, first of all the recording process is not easy but we enjoyed every single moment because we took for granted what we had 20 years ago, but now we are seizing every single moment. At the same time we have a big pressure because we can’t just release an ordinary album. The album has to be amazing so I think the album is going to be amazing. I usually don’t say it because the last album we released called Dahlia, that took 7 years. And in interviews they ask me, “Yoshiki, what do you think of that album, it took 7 years?”. I say “It’s ok” [laughs]. And the record company says please say something positive .But this album took 20 years after that album so I think it will be very powerful.

You’ve never stopped making music in between. Most members of the band seem to be the same. What else have you been working on over the last couple of years? We spoke off audio before about the hologram show you did at SXSW a few years ago.

Exactly, I did a piano battle against my hologram. That was very interesting. The same year 2014, I also toured as a classical pianist. So I’m working on my classical music as well but as of now my focus is X Japan.

The film touches on the pain you have with drumming. Is the piano much more therapeutic and less painful? But considering how fast you are I’m not sure. [laughs]

Depends on what kind of songs you play. You play some of the Japan songs, its pretty hard on my wrists. But I don’t know, I enjoy playing drums too.

One thing the film shows is that you’re relentless in your talent and your skill. And that comes across in every frame of that film. It’s incredible to watch that story and knowing what you go through is something I think is humbling for anyone and any other drummer I think would watch that and go “Well I’ve got to step up my game”.

Thank you. I mean its a trait of – if you practice practice hard your body kind of gets deteriorated or something like that. But I mean I play drums super hard [laughs].

Its one of the unfortunate side effect of doing it super hard and doing that a lot. So what will the rest of the year hold for you now that you’ve postponed the shows? The film I guess and presenting that around the world?

Yes, also finishing the album because the guitarist got very sick so all the extra members are playing his part – including myself, I play guitar too –  so trying to finish the album and preparing for the next big tour.

Fantastic. My last question is for a first time viewer of this film and someone who isn’t familiar with this band, what do you hope they take away from it?

Even though our story is crazy and a very unusual thing happened to us, that type of story can be related to every person in this world, because everybody is going though ups and down, our situation was just very extreme. The film itself is going to give you, kind of like a light. If you’re going through depression or some pain, this film can give you like a dream or a light or tell you that nothing is impossible, in a positive way.

I feel like you’ve pushed that through your music as well.

Yes I’ve always thought, nothing is impossible, nothing can stop me from achieving my dreams.

Fantastic. Well thank you so much for your time and congrats on the film.

Thank you so much.

For more information on We Are X and remaining screenings at SXSW click HERE

In the meantime, check out our review