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Variety’s International Achievement in Music Honoree and Japanese Rock Legend Yoshiki Talks New Documentary and Fashion: ‘The Fans Are the Reason I’m Still Here’

Ahead of Milan Fashion Week 2024’s unveiling of the high-end line Maison Yoshiki, its designer and namesake, Japanese rock star Yoshiki, made a last-minute decision to perform on the runway.

About 10 minutes into the Feb. 22 presentation at the city’s museum of science and technology dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, the throbbing, industrial EDM production subsided when Yoshiki sat down at his personally branded Kawai crystal piano, placed between two lanes of runway models. A melodic solo accompaniment of Bach’s Prelude in C Major soundtracked the parade of minimal, primarily black satin, silk and faux fur trimmed pieces. As all 37 models returned to the stage for the final look, Yoshiki performed his arrangement of “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot,” followed by the designer of the hour stepping away from the piano, putting on his signature sunglasses and greeting the crowd with two bows before leading the models to exit.

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In its review of the show, the Cut noted the “performance quality” of Yoshiki Maison’s debut, noting the multihyphenate’s demeanor: “He seemed utterly chill about his ability to be a designer, which is perhaps not surprising at all.”

Indeed, that “chill” demeanor is far from a surprise for those familiar with Yoshiki’s four-plus decades of work in the entertainment industry — they know the star’s fearless specificity in everything he touches.

From genre-spanning music collaborations to directing a documentary to his fashion endeavors and philanthropy work, the soft-spoken, frequently sunglass-toting rock star masks a deeply creative soul.

“I was hesitating to perform because I want the center of attention to be the clothes, not me,” Yoshiki reflects several days later over a late-night phone call from Tokyo. “My team suggested, ‘Yoshiki, you should play, it will add a kind of strength to your show,’” before adding with a laugh, “Pretty much, at the last minute, I was convinced to perform because I wanted to take people on some kind of journey.”

For the debut of his fashion line, Yoshiki composed three electronic tracks in addition to performing Bach and Puccini compositions, underscoring the multifaceted abilities of Variety’s Intl. Achievement in Music honoree.

In 2023 alone, Yoshiki embarked on two international tours, made his directorial debut with the music documentary “Yoshiki: Under the Sky,” released new music with his two rock bands, and performed with top stars across the pop, rock, opera, J-pop and K-pop worlds, including Ellie Goulding, St. Vincent and Tomorrow X Together.

During the same period, Yoshiki received the Icon Award at Los Angeles’ Stars Asian Intl. Film Festival and was named Favorite Intl. Artist at the 2023 Mnet Asian Music Awards in Tokyo. He also became the first Japanese artist to have hands and footprints memorialized at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

And he’s not slowing down: On April 16, he will perform the national anthem at Dodger Stadium for Hello Kitty night. The musician is creating a global theme for Hello Kitty in honor of its 50th anniversary.

“Defining Yoshiki is very confusing,” he says. “I meet people who don’t know me who ask, ‘What do you do?’”

As if needing to take a moment to remind himself of the answer, he pauses with a slight hmm before he lands on, “I just love being surrounded by art — something like that.”

Yoshiki was born in the city of Tateyama in Chiba, part of the greater Tokyo area, to parents who ran a kimono shop. They also both had backgrounds in music. When his father, a jazz pianist and tap dancer, died by suicide when Yoshiki was only 10, the future star found relief from tragedy in punk and hard-rock music, embracing acts including Kiss, Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden, alongside learning to play drums and guitar — a stark contrast to the piano lessons and music theory the pitch-perfect student had been taught since he was very young.

Yoshiki played in bands alongside childhood friend and singer-songwriter Toshimitsu Deyama (soon to be better known to the world via his own mononym, Toshi), with the two founding X Japan in 1982 and leading the band through its multi-platinum, award-winning career. X Japan was the first act to bring metal to the famous Tokyo Dome stadium, and was also Japan’s answer to glam rock, but with a local twist via the popular Visual Kei fashion movement with its explosively colorful makeup, hairstyles and costumes.

In the early 1990s, Yoshiki ventured into solo work beyond his work for X Japan, collaborating with Japanese electronic pioneer Tetsuya Komuro and releasing his 1991 “Yoshiki Selection” CD with interpretations of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. Looking increasingly outward in both his collaborators and recognition, Yoshiki tapped Beatles producer George Martin for his first solo album, 1993’s “Eternal Melody,” while Queen drummer Roger Taylor featured him on “Foreign Sand,” the second single off the English drummer’s 1994 solo album “Happiness?,” which entered the Top 40 of the U.K.’s singles chart.

Though X Japan announced its disbandment in 1997, Yoshiki has balanced the group’s periodic reunions (most recently releasing their first new single in eight years, “Angel,” last July) with a range of projects that speak to his discerning, wide-ranging taste that’s expanded into a career encompassing film, toys, fragrance, food and drink, all in dedication to in bringing his best to his loyal fan base. He’s even been the subject of a comic book, “Blood Red Dragon,” comic, created by Marvel legend Stan Lee with artist Todd McFarlane.

“When I do some kind of project, I always put a hundred percent,” he reflects. “I’m just picky about everything, I guess?”

Looking back at his “crazy” 2023, Yoshiki expresses his gratitude but hopes 2024 can be a year for him to create and take some “extracurricular time for myself to think about life more.” Or, as he later puts it with a blunt laugh: “Well, I’m still single.”

But his personal life may need to take a backseat once again as the star swims through his sea of creative commitments, which includes recording new music.

Yoshiki is currently composing the official song to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sanrio’s Hello Kitty character and brand. The Last Rockstars, his Japanese supergroup that features three other legends in the scene, will play its final U.S. tour date in August at L.A.’s YouTube Theater. Yoshiki is also writing a symphony, intended for a full orchestra, and recently hosted fellow Asia icon and friend G-Dragon, the leader of K-pop group Bigbang, in his Los Angeles studio.

“We were just figuring out if we’re creating music together,” he says. “He’s very talented and charismatic. I love K-pop, it’s very inspirational, and I love J-pop and J-rock. Sometimes working together or collaborating could be amazing.”

Inspired by his experience directing and starring in documentary “Yoshiki: Under the Sky,” which showcased pandemic-era musical collaborations with such diverse artists as Scorpions, Sarah Brightman, Hide, Jane Zhang, St. Vincent, Nicole Scherzinger, Lindsey Stirling and the Chainsmokers, Yoshiki is also directing another documentary project and a feature film.

Yoshiki still aspires to make his mark in the world’s largest music industry.

“In terms of America or being international, I don’t feel like I achieved that much yet,” he admits. “I’m still not a household name or anything so there is a lot more I need to do, but at the same time, my goal is not to become famous or anything.”

Instead, he has aspirations that transcend the traditional confines of fame and fortune.

“My goal is to try to dedicate any time of my life to this art — the beauty of art, everything,” Yoshiki says. “By me doing this, I can support people. That’s why I’m doing this.”

And it’s the fans who keep Yoshiki seeking excellence.

“The fans are the reason I’m still here,” he says. “Sometimes, I get lost in thoughts like, ‘Why am I living in this world?’ When I see my fans, they make me feel like I’m OK to be living.”

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