On the tier list of Japanese rock stars, there’s YOSHIKI and then there’s everyone else.
After rising to fame as the drummer and leader of X Japan, the award-winning artist expanded his presence in the music world as a composer and pianist while also becoming a fashion icon and significant figure across many facets of pop culture both in Japan and around the world. He’s even the recipient of the first ever Sanrio (as in Hello Kitty) character modeled after a real person, with the 2009 creation of yoshikitty.
From performing for the Japanese emperor to composing for major movies, TV series, and events (including the Hello Kitty theme song), YOSHIKI has done it all in the music world. Recently, the Los Angeles resident launched into two new groundbreaking directions, first making his feature-length directorial debut with the autobiographical music documentary YOSHIKI: Under the Sky and then by becoming the first Japanese artist in nearly 100 years to be honored by the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. YOSHIKI additionally announced an auction of his crystal piano during his ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre, and raised over 40 Million Yen (appx $270,000 USD) to benefit earthquake victims in Japan.
As with everything created by YOSHIKI, Under the Sky (which will be available on Amazon Prime Video later this year) isn’t your normal music documentary. Instead, it seamlessly blends unforgettable concert footage featuring some of the major musicians YOSHIKI has worked with (St. Vincent, The Chainsmokers, Scorpions) with an emotional look back at his life through interviews and other segments.
There’s no other artist (Japanese or otherwise) who compares to YOSHIKI and his storied career, so SPIN caught up with the uniquely legendary musician after the unveiling of his concrete footprints and handprints in Hollywood.
SPIN: What was it like to work on a film after such a long career in music?
YOSHIKI: I felt like I’ve done a lot of music videos and things like that, so I thought I knew how to do it. But to create an entire 90-minute film is very difficult. In a music video, it’s between 3 and 6 minutes or something like that, so you try to tell the story within those 5-ish minutes. But in 90 minutes, you have to figure out what you want to convey without losing focus. You can almost talk about your entire life in that much time, but that could be 70 or even 100 years these days. You have to find what you want to focus on and how you want to show your life condensed into 90 minutes. Also, I’m very detail-oriented, so I was focusing on one thing for 5 minutes and then another, and then another. I think the hardest thing for me was finding the things to focus on.
How did it feel to start over in a new medium like this?
I love doing something challenging and something new. It’s also like my fashion career. These things aren’t all the same, but they’re all a part of my art. They all stimulate each other. By learning more about film, I can use that knowledge to create from the music side as well. It’s like composing a symphony compared to a regular song. A symphony can have a theme that’s 20 minutes long, versus a 4- or 5-minute song. Learning about film and experiencing that difference can make it easier to compose, and learning about the film business is interesting too. Even though I have a long career as a musician, I felt like I needed to start from the beginning with this film. I have enormous respect for people who create films, and just because I have a long career in music, that doesn’t mean anything here. I’m a rookie director. It’s like if I had a long career playing baseball in Japan, then I come here and play in the Major Leagues, I’d start over as a rookie.
What was it like to have companies like Sanrio honor you by making yoshikitty based on your likeness?
I met Sanrio well over a decade ago, and ever since then, I’ve been very close with them. They recently asked me to compose and perform a song for them to use globally to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hello Kitty. I feel very honored to be a part of it, because Hello Kitty is one of the most famous characters from Japan ever. I’m very grateful to be a part of it, but I also feel a lot of pressure to figure out what kind of song I should compose for them. I really want to take the time to figure out who will be the absolute best singer for this, so I’m spending a lot of time creating and thinking about that. To be honest, I feel like “How do I deserve this?” I’m not a household name or anything. People in the industry may know me, but I’m very grateful. At the same time, I feel pressure to achieve something that stands out in the music industry around the world. I’m not saying this in a conceited way, but there are a lot of ups and downs in my career. I could easily be not even living in this world without the support of my friends helping me to achieve my dream.
Speaking of support, you volunteered to donate a lot of money for Japan’s recovery for their recent earthquake. What made you want to support that cause so strongly, aside from just being from Japan?
It started in a bit of a selfish way when I was thinking about the meaning of life. My father took his own life when I was a young kid, so it’s always made me think about why people live their lives. Eventually, I realized I wanted to be helping people. It doesn’t have to be donating money or anything, just supporting people made me realize that I’m OK with living. Doing something for charity somehow makes me feel OK to be breathing in this world, because being here means I can still support somebody else — which then supports me being here.
X Japan was famously the one band Coachella felt comfortable putting against Beyoncé. How did that feel to be playing at the same time as her?
Well, the one very bad thing was that I couldn’t watch Beyoncé because we were playing at the same time. But also, there are not that many rock artists at Coachella, so we were very grateful to be one of the few. Even though the amazing Beyoncé show was going on at the same time, a lot of people still showed up to watch our show too. We felt very grateful that we got to rock Coachella with our fans. It was an amazing moment.
Photo Credit: YOSHIKI
You have so many things going on right now, is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
Well, I made the film YOSHIKI: Under the Sky to help connect the world and break down the walls that divide the world. That sounds cliche, but music can really help people, and that’s what I think the world needs the most right now. After all these years and everything we’ve been through, why do we still have these wars and fight? Why do we hate each other? Why can’t we support each other? Of course, it’s not an easy answer, but I think we can contribute as artists to help find the answers to that. I’m also still doing fashion and everything, but I’m still a rock artist. I try to be about rock music as much as I can be. Some people may say “What is YOSHIKI doing?” when they see the fashion and the film and everything, but I haven’t lost the rock spirit. I still want to rock the world in a good way.