“If there was no music, I don’t think I’d even survive,” said Yoshiki, the lyricist, drummer, pianist, and creative center of the glam rock band X Japan. Over the course of their career, they band has only released five studio albums, which have sold more than 30 million copies combined.
Their music is a unique combination of heavy metal mixed with a symphonic edge, which is rounded out with Yoshiki’s lyrics, lifted from the events of his own life. While they’re largely unknown outside of their native Japan, they can sell out the Tokyo Dome, a 55,000-seat arena, 18 times over the course of their career. It’s a testament to their rabidly devoted fanbase, as well as the band’s considerable impact on music, fashion, and Japanese culture on a whole.
Success and massive influence aside, X Japan’s journey has been earmarked by tragedy. Founding member Toshi was brainwashed by a cult throughout the 1990s. Guitarist hide [pronounced hid-day] seemed to have committed suicide after the band’s breakup in 1997. Years later, Taiji, their former bassist, committed suicide in a jail cell in 2011, less than a year after reuniting with his former bandmates in 2010.
It’s the kind of story that documentary filmmaker Stephen Kijak, who directed the 2010 musical documentary Stones in Exile, compared to a “rock opera,” and is what drove him to helm the documentary about the band called We Are X.