What is a rockstar? When that word comes to mind, many might think of icons like the Beatles, Queen or Jimi Hendrix. But to some, the word “rockstar” is synonymous with Yoshiki, who since his musical start in 1982, has extended his reach beyond his home in Japan across the globe.
At this year’s Anime Expo in Los Angeles, musician Yoshiki was recognized as a guest of honor, hosting his own panel on Sunday, July 2 at the convention. There, he discussed his latest musical endeavors and the driving force behind his work at this stage of his life.
Yoshiki Hayashi, or known simply as Yoshiki, is many things. He is a composer, a songwriter, a classical pianist and an innovator within the rock music scene. The co-founder of bands X Japan and The Last Rockstars, Yoshiki is known to be a pioneer of visual kei, a genre that incorporates rock music, heavy makeup, elaborate costumes and androgynous style.
Over his career, he has partnered with Coca-Cola for his own energy drink, composed music for the Golden Globes, started his own fashion line, had a Hello Kitty named after him, and met with Queen Elizabeth II.
But among anime fans, he may be known for his work on the popular series “Attack on Titan,” composing the opening theme “Red Swan” for the show’s third season.
As he walked onto the stage at the L.A. Convention Center’s Petree Hall, the audience cheered for the musician’s arrival. He had just flown in a few hours before after a busy day in Tokyo performing on live TV. Throughout the panel, the audience was treated to highlight reels of Yoshiki’s diverse music repertoire, from his time frantically drumming shirtless with X Japan, to his elegant piano performances, to him conducting an orchestra for the emperor of Japan.
After many decades of work, Yoshiki expresses that one of the reasons he can keep this energy is partially due to the passing of some of his old band members, including X Japan’s Taiji Sawada and Hideto “Hide” Matsumoto.
“I really thought that I was going to be the one to die first, but for some reason I’m still here,” he said in the panel. “I almost feel like I have an extra life. So might as well live as much as I can.”
His latest project is a new song titled “Requiem.” It is dedicated to Yoshiki’s mother who recently passed away, but he speaks on how that loss is what fuels the creation of this piece.
“I was crying and crying… I said, ‘Doctor, can you stop my tears? Any medication or anything?’ and they said ‘No medication can stop you crying,’” he recalls. “I started playing piano and started writing songs, and wow, my tears somehow becoming melodies.”
The upcoming song’s cover art is just as notable, as it was painted by another one of AX’s guests of honor this year, Yoshitaka Amano. The famed artist is most known for his work on the “Final Fantasy” video game series, but once Yoshiki realized Amano’s panel was back-to-back with his, he reached out asking if he would paint for him.
Making a surprise appearance at the end of Amano’s panel, Yoshiki unveiled the artwork for the first time. Painted over a dark orange background was an image of Yoshiki holding a rose, representing his mother’s spirit.
Before the end of the panel, the emcee invited audience members to ask questions to Yoshiki. The first asked for an autograph, in which Yoshiki simply gestured for them to walk up as he signed their notebook.
The second similarly asked for a selfie. As a catwalk was conveniently placed out for the fashion show earlier in the day, Yoshiki strutted out to greet the fan. In an instant, the entire audience stood up from their seats and rushed to the stage to grab their own pictures with the musician.
Microphone in hand, Yoshiki smiled and asked, “Any other questions?” As the audience laughed, some raised their hands with the hopes of getting picked and others recorded videos of him up-close.
Even without music, Yoshiki transformed the panel into the image of a rock concert.
As the panel came to a close, the emcee directed audiences to either leave the room or return to their seats for the next panel, but some were still living in that moment. As Yoshiki returned backstage, Yuka Matsushita wiped away tears and sniffled as she had been a fan of his ever since she was a teenager.
“When I grew up in Japan, I always listened to his music, Yoshiki, X Japan, all the time, and I know how he had hard times when his father took his life and his mother just passed away,” she said. “I was crying because he was so touching and he was moving.”
For those who simply knew about Yoshiki in passing, his music and words still struck a chord. Matsushita attended the panel with casual fan Maxine Castro. The two just met during the convention, but became quick friends.
“It was surprisingly fun. Very, very fun, Nothing like I expected,” said Castro. “I like the energy that he brought into the panel because he was very welcoming with everyone in the audience.”
In just 45 minutes, Yoshiki ignited the love of longtime fans and new listeners alike. Although he previously had two neck surgeries, the musician is armed with a “second life.” Between traveling from Tokyo to L.A. to London to Paris within this same week, it is clear that he shows no signs of slowing down.
Yoshiki will perform in the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on October 20 as part of his Yoshiki Classical 10th Anniversary World Tour.