The Gap begets Uniqlo, Disney begets anime. And now the cycle of appropriation is starting to go in the other direction. "Japan has always been a source of great inspiration to me, and X Japan is a big part of that," says My Chemical Romance frontman and award-winning comic book writer Gerard Way. "Because of my love for manga and Japanese animation as a boy, I was able to connect with the music, the emotion, and the visual intent." And that's precisely the recipe that Marc Geiger, the band's booking agent, hopes to duplicate with fanboys across the country. The bet is that X Japan can find greater success than their J-Rock predecessors—Dir En Grey, Boredoms, the Kurt Cobain-endorsed Shonen Knife—by catapulting Yoshiki into becoming an anime superhero with the help of Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee. (The project was slated to be announced at New York Comic Con in early October, but it has since been delayed.) "For any kid under the age of 14," Geiger says, "anime is huge. It makes sense for them to come over now."
Yoshiki and his childhood friend, Toshi, were 17 years old when—covered in blood-spattered makeup with fuck-you attitudes to match—they arrived in Tokyo as self-described "cartoon monsters." But the initial seed of their rebellion—and ultimately of X Japan—was planted seven years earlier when Yoshiki came home from a music lesson to find his father, a kimono-shop owner, dead from suicide. Up to that point, he'd been listening exclusively to classical music. But in the wake of his father's death, Yoshiki's tastes took a sharp, screeching turn toward heavy metal. He wore out the grooves on Kiss' Alive! and was able to convince his mother, who'd been teaching him classical piano since he was 4, to take him to one of their concerts at Tokyo's Budokan arena. "It was shocking to me," he says, "but I loved every minute of it. My mother, however, was a little worried." Soon he'd moved on to Led Zeppelin, then the Sex Pistols, proving that rebellion through rock and roll works pretty much the same in Japan as it does in the States. "I went to a very conservative junior high school, and I started dying my hair," he remembers. "One time a teacher held me down and shaved my head. The next day I came back with a different color."
X Japan's garish looks and rebel ways struck a chord with Japanese youth. Yoshiki and Toshi didn't just trash hotel rooms, but entire hotels. Eventually, various restaurants and bars in Tokyo started posting "No Yoshiki" signs outside. The music propelled them to superstardom, but if you've ever seen "Behind the Music," you already have some idea of what led to their late-nineties flameout. In this version, Toshi leaves the band to join a cult, and the guitarist, Hide, is found hanging from a towel tied to a doorknob. And that's when Yoshiki's career really takes off.
The former rebel morphed into something more palatable—and marketable—releasing several classical solo albums to great acclaim, collaborating with Sir George Martin, and catching the ear of Emperor Akihito, who commissioned Yoshiki to write and perform a song to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his reign. "I knew there would be some controversy, and maybe years ago I wouldn't have done it—but to rebel against the rebellious was appealing," he says. It wasn't long before the endorsements started flowing, but he's adamant that they do little to dilute the Yoshiki brand. "I cut myself onstage, yet I have Hello Kitty. I like the contradiction," he says matter-of-factly. "I don't worry about it. I'm still mysterious. I don't even know who I am anyway."
"I'm very scared of myself," he continues. "Suicide has crossed my mind. I can't sleep and I can't relax. I'm very fragile when I'm alone. But when I leave my house, I feel stronger and nothing can stop me."
For the last twelve years, Yoshiki has lived in Encino—the pinnacle of L.A. suburbia—on the street where Michael Jackson once resided. When he's in Japan, he has a 24-hour bodyguard detail, but here he's remarkably lax about security. He moved to L.A. to escape the incessant hounding. "I enjoy going to the grocery store and buying ice cream," he tells me while relaxing on a hotel-room couch the day after the video shoot. Dressed in a white linen shirt with black pants and winklepicker boots, his wavy hair tickling his shoulders, Yoshiki's still working the androgynous angle pretty hard. Yet if he's incredibly thin, almost to the point of being frail, it isn't entirely a matter of style: Yoshiki suffers from chronic tendonitis, and last July he had to have major neck surgery to relieve bulging discs—the result of too much head banging. Afterwards he spent two weeks in the hospital undergoing a battery of tests, and his doctor warned him that his neck "may only hold out for two years. He told me not to play the drums. Fuck that. I may become paralyzed—so what?" Yoshiki has always been the screaming, stick-twirling sort who likes to bash out his demons on the kit—but these days he has to gut out shows in a neck brace.