Last week, X Japan took over chunks of downtown and Hollywood to film four music videos, a process that culminated Saturday evening in thousands of fans joining the Japanese metal band for a shoot at Hollywood & Highland. To say this was 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 less than 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 the originators of visual kei, the style of Japanese hard rock that incorporates elaborate, often gothic-style imagery. In Japan, they’re legends. In the U.S., at least among people unfamiliar with J-rock, they are best known for the song “I.V.,” featured on the soundtrack for Saw IV alongside work from Skinny Puppy, Nitzer Ebb and Ministry.
Once concluded, 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 from both the U.S. and Japan working through the night, every night, for days. Last 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 amid 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 they re-formed in 2007, walked into the room first. Like all the other band members that we saw, he was accompanied by an entourage. One stylist followed him to the top of the 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 coifed until someone pointed a fan in their direction, which artfully mussed 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 entourage, 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.
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Yoshiki founded X Japan in 1982, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at him. On first glance, you might think that he’s in his late 20s. His hair is highlighted blond and cut into layers that seem to always stay in place. His makeup 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. He has been living in L.A. on and off for more than 10 years. If you are a club kid, there’s a chance that you’ve seen him at one of the local goth haunts. Though X Japan have recorded in Los Angeles on several occasions, Saturday’s video shoot was their first U.S. performance. (On the basis of RSVPs, they anticipated that between 3,000 and 5,000 people would attend.)
In addition to being a drummer, Yoshiki is a pianist and composer who writes much of X Japan’s music. He told us that his roots are in classical music, but that he discovered rock when he was about 10 and loved its freedom. “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. “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.”
For more on L.A. music, check L.A. Weekly’s music blog, West Coast Sound, at blogs.laweekly.com/westcoastsound/.