For more photos from X Japan's video shoot, check out Shannon Cottrell's photo gallery.
This week, X Japan took over chunks of downtown and Hollywood to film four music videos, a process that will culminate Saturday evening when thousands of fans will join the Japanese metal band for a shoot at Hollywood & Highland. To say this is a big deal would be an understatement. Since debuting in the 1980s, X Japan have sold millions of albums. They don't play shows for under 10,000 people --20,000 to 50,000 is closer to normal-- except for the time that they played a 1,000-capacity gig in Tokyo that was broadcast in theaters across the country. X Japan are often considered to be the originators of visual kei, the style of Japanese hard rock that incorporates elaborate, often gothic-styled imagery. In Japan, they're legends. In the U.S., at least amongst people unfamiliar with J-rock, they are best known for the song "I.V.," which was featured on the soundtrack for Saw IV alongside work from Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb and Ministry.
The videos for songs "Rusty Nail," "Endless Rain," "I.V." and "Jade" will be epic. We're talking "November Rain" epic. There are multiple shoots going on at once, with multiple crews, hailing both from the U.S. and Japan, working through the night, every night, for days. On Friday, we were invited to tour one of the sets and talk to X Japan founder and drummer Yoshiki (like most Japanese rock musicians, the members of X Japan are on a first-name basis with the public).
Friday's shoot took place at Los Angeles Theatre, one of the downtown movie palaces that has been restored to a work of old L.A. grandeur. There are hidden rooms across the multiple levels of the building and it seemed like every one was in use. The dressing area was filled with extras transforming into the attendants of a gothic masquerade ball. In other rooms, one crew was filming documentary footage while another was posing vintage baby dolls like cupids amidst bouquets of black flowers.
We arrived right before guitarists Sugizo and Pata were to perform a sequence for "Jade," the newest of the four songs. Sugizo, the only current member of X Japan who joined after their 2007 reformation, walked into the room first. The guitarist, who entered the fold to fill the void left by deceased member hide (intentionally all lower case), is no stranger to J-rock stardom either. He was a member of the influential visual kei group Luna Sea and, more recently, has played in Juno Reactor and collaborated with Yoshiki in the supergroup S.K.I.N. Like all the other members of the band that we saw, he was accompanied by an entourage. One stylist followed him to the top of a carousel-like structure where he would be playing, all the while fixing his hair and straightening parts of his costume. A few minutes later, Pata joined him. They were perfectly coiffed until someone pointed a fan in their direction, artfully blowing their hair as they air guitared their parts with hands so close to the real instruments that it will look completely genuine on screen.
While they were filming, Yoshiki came to meet with us. He too was flanked by people, staff and the documentary crew. We chatted briefly, with video equipment circling him, and paused every few minutes when the production team had to turn up the backing track for another take.
Yoshiki founded X Japan in 1982, but you wouldn't be able to tell that by looking at him. On first glance, you might think that he's in his late 20s. His hair is highlighted blonde and cut into layers that seem to always stay in place. His make-up was flawless and his outfit, two white, button-down shirts, black pants and a few necklaces, was gothic without looking too much like a costume.
Yoshiki is a pianist and composer in addition to a drummer and he writes much of X Japan's music. He told us that his roots are in classical music, but, when he was about ten, he discovered rock, thinking that it was "free."
"Then when I was 17 or 18 and I was trying to play at clubs and get a record deal, I found out that there's not that much freedom in rock music," he admitted.
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"There are all these genres and the record labels were telling us, 'You should do this and maybe we can sign you,'" he recalled. "We said, 'Fuck that.'"
He added, "My inspiration is that music should be free, no boundaries."
Yoshiki launched Extasy Records to release his band's music. " Because nobody wanted to release our record, we learned how to release a record and did it and outsold any rock band at the time," he said.
Yoshiki has been living in L.A. on-and-off for more than ten years. If you are a club kid, there's a chance you might have seen him at one of the local goth haunts. Though the band has recorded in Los Angeles on several occasions, Saturday's video shoot will be their first U.S. performance. Based on RSVPs, it is anticipated that between 3000 and 5000 people will attend. Set construction at Hollywood & Highland has been in progress all week and, from what we've seen both through photos of the construction site and our own experience at Los Angeles Theatre, it will encompass all of the over-the-top theatrics that have been sorely missing from the U.S. music world (Lady Gaga excluded) for far too long.