Words: Heather Collier
Japanese rockstar and composer Yoshiki has officially made his directorial debut with a heartfelt documentary about the power of music, artistry, and its ability to unite us during dark times.
Shot during the height of the COVID:19 pandemic, Yoshiki: Under The Sky is a tribute to the musician’s fans around the globe that he could no longer connect with. The film captures an intimate glimpse into Yoshiki’s world during the aftermath of the crisis, as well as the friends and family he has lost along the way.
Over the past four decades, Yoshiki has assembled an incredible arsenal of musical projects and achievements, from selling over 30 million records with progressive rock band X Japan, to composing theme songs for The Golden Globe Awards, Hollywood movies and hit television series’, to collaborating with artists from every corner of the industry. As a talented songwriter, classically trained pianist, guitarist, drummer, and producer, Yoshiki proves to be an all-rounder when it comes to performing.
Delivering a diverse sonic landscape, the film guides us through a whistlestop tour of renowned international artists from the United States, Europe, China, and Japan, including Nicole Scherzinger, The Chainsmokers, St. Vincent, Scorpions, Sarah Brightman, SixTONES, Jane Zhang, Lindsey Stirling, HYDE and SUGIZO.
Shot from a glamorously staged rooftop, each performer is set against a dramatic backdrop of city skylines from around the world. Widely and lesser-known original songs and covers are performed, with many of them meticulously arranged by Yoshiki himself.
One of the main highlights includes Nicole Scherzinger’s rendition of ‘I’ll Be Your Love’. Yoshiki was first introduced to Scherzinger during her appearance at the Tokyo International Forum in 2002, long before the conception of The Pussycat Dolls. Through a shared love of music, an unlikely friendship was formed between the pair; a bond that has led them to where they are today.
Introduced through mutual friends after watching her 2018 Coachella set, St. Vincent also agreed to join the project, performing a mesmerising classical arrangement of her 2017 track ‘New York’. The MASSEDUCTION singer, real name Annie Clark, revealed how much she enjoys feeling another musician’s presence and energy on stage with her, and how collaborating with Yoshiki is “always a thrill”.
Since then, the two have reunited, performing together at the Royal Albert Hall in London last month and bringing the new version to life once again, making Yoshiki the first Japanese musician to headline such a historic venue, along with the Dolby Theatre and Carnegie Hall.
By the final act of the film, dozens of Yoshiki’s fans make their own special appearance via Zoom, contributing to the concert by forming an international choir. Performing a celebratory cover of the famous Attack on Titan theme song ‘Red Swan’, Yoshiki makes the point that music has no borders.
One fan in particular had written to Yoshiki on Twitter during this time, expressing how his music was a source of comfort for his terminally ill wife, a story that later finds itself at the very centre of the narrative.
After the death of his father, the suicide of two former X Japan bandmates, and the loss of his mother towards the end of filming, it’s clear that Yoshiki is navigating and overcoming a profound amount of grief; a journey that he hopes to share with others, and by doing so, bring them hope.
Emotional and well-intentioned, the film spreads a message of love and positivity, but at times runs the risk of seeming self-indulgent. Marketed as a global live concert, the ‘live’ element is in fact nowhere to be seen, with many of the performances feeling more like overproduced music videos.
While the vocals and arrangements on display are impressive, the project appears to lack a common thread to tie it all together, preventing audiences from connecting on a deeper, more authentic level.
Despite this, through a series of inspirational, and at times, spiritual monologues, Yoshiki speaks to the audience directly, encouraging them to “never give up”, to pursue our dreams wholeheartedly, no matter the cost.
The phrase “Don’t take anything for granted, even if it’s hard sometimes to achieve it” is uttered by Yoshiki during the opening and closing shots, a moment that he has now said is intentional. There is a sense of cyclicality rather than clumsy repetitiveness, a ‘full circle’ moment where we are reminded that our time on earth is not linear, that our art will often outlive us, and to be present and enjoy our time ‘under the sky’ whilst we are still here.
As the film closes out, the words ‘To be continued…’ appear on screen, hinting that another instalment may be in the works.
Following the film’s successful run in Japan, Yoshiki: Under The Sky is set to premiere in ODEON cinemas across the UK from December 1st, with a special Q&A featuring Yoshiki at ODEON Covent Garden scheduled for December 5th.