Legendary. Such a word is typically found in myth and lore; stories so unbelievable they couldn’t possibly hold any shred of authentic merit beyond the stuff the best fiction is made of. But there are circumstances when this powerful word finds itself attached to figures in real life. More often than not, these legends are saints, philanthropists, political figures; each with a story as incredible (and as unbelievable) as his/her achievements. Rarely is the accolade given to an entertainer let alone a rock band, especially in a conservative country such as Japan. However, LUNA SEA is one of very few Japanese rock groups that not only are honored for their role as rock pioneers, but also as one of the greatest legends of rock in Japan.
Comprised of five extraordinary musicians, LUNA SEA was RYUICHI on vocals, SUGIZO on guitar and violin, INORAN on guitar, J on bass, and Shinya on drums.
From humble roots in Kanagawa, Japan, where all five members of LUNA SEA grew up, the first seeds of the legend were sown long before any members of the band knew how it felt to stand on a stage or how heavy a guitar would weigh. It began at the tender age of three, for both SUGIZO and Shinya, when their respective parents placed classical instruments in their hands. SUGIZO’s parents, both classical musicians, started him on violin, while Shinya received extensive training from his father in Noh (a traditional Japanese form of drama), which provided him with a foundation in percussion. Both musicians were rigorously trained; the training continuing from childhood throughout adolescence and into their teens, until they met in high school. By that time, they’d both discovered the allure of rock and roll, and were aspiring musicians, quickly becoming fast friends and forming a band together: PINNOCHIO.
Meanwhile, at another high school in Kanagawa, J and INORAN were tending to their own band, LUNACY, which they founded with a few high school friends in 1986. Unlike SUGIZO and Shinya, who had the luxury of being trained in music from an early age, J and INORAN had to teach themselves how to play bass and guitar on second-hand instruments, meticulously honing their technique and developing theory without the help of a teacher. Both, however, were more than successful; so successful, in fact, that LUNACY became one of the most popular indies bands in the region; their greatest rival happening to be (not so surprisingly) PINNOCHIO.
At that point in time, "Visual Kei" had not yet been codified in the language of Japanese entertainment; it was, instead, a nameless generation of strange new "rock" bands that both fascinated and shocked a public that didn’t know what to think of this new genre of entertainment. It wasn’t until 1987 that BUCK-TICK would put out their major debut album, SEXUAL XXXXX! with Victor Invitation, stunning the public by appearing on television not only with wild hairstyles that defied gravity, but with makeup that transformed five young men into beautiful, androgynous figures. By 1988, BUCK-TICK’s single, "JUST ONE MORE KISS" was packaged with every single JVC CDIAN boom box as part of an extensive endorsement deal that churned out commercials featuring an artist with such a shocking appearance. 1989 saw BUCK-TICK as the first rock band after The Beatles to play the Tokyo Dome, the beginning of X JAPAN‘s rise to fame, as well as a name for the strange, new generation of would-be rock stars in costumes as eccentric as their hair and makeup: Visual Kei. It was also the year that members of the original LUNACY and PINNOCHIO line-ups would leave the bands, leaving both groups with incomplete line-ups.
Determined not to let their dream die, J and INORAN began to search for replacement members as SUGIZO and Shinya left behind PINNOCHIO for greener pastures. It didn’t take very long for J and INORAN to approach their formal rivals on January 16, 1989 with the prospect of joining LUNACY, and by May 1989, the final member of LUNACY was chosen: RYUICHI (who was going by the stage name of RAYLA at the time), from SLAUGHTER. The convergence of five different members with very different musical backgrounds resulted in the coining of a completely original, innovative, fresh sound that later on became known as the trademark "visual kei sound" so many bands today now boast. The band made their first appearance May 29, 1989, at Machida PLAY HOUSE, playing a small set that immediately began to win over fans with a sound that was unlike anything else in the market at the time.
By December 1989, LUNACY already were enjoying a taste of the success that loomed in their future when they released a three-track demo, "SHADE," selling out all 1000 limited copies, following up the successful release with their first one-man live at Machida PLAY HOUSE on December 17th. LUNACY would perform again one more time on January 8, 1990, followed by a four month lapse till April 3, 1990. The period of time without public activity was largely attributed to the fact that the band was unsigned, and forced to work in order to pay for the high cost of equipment, studio, and other fees. Various interviews throughout the years recall odd jobs such as construction, crabbing, and violin lesson, as well as the numerous sacrifices made; amongst which include horror stories of how the members would rather buy new gear instead of eat (which resulted in survival on Cup Noodles and food coupons), or in SUGIZO‘s case, the bitter tale of a shattered relationship with a father who disapproved of his rock pursuits. Despite these hardships, LUNACY persevered, continuing to build their fan base, traveling as far as Osaka to perform at MODA Hall. It wasn’t long before they moved up to Tokyo’s Meguro LIVE STATION where they would headline for the first time as LUNA SEA, selling out the venue on November 24, 1990, inaugurating their ascension to the next level of their career.
Months later on February 11, 1991, hide from X happened to be a member of a sold-out audience at Meguro Rokumeikan. Impressed by the quality of LUNA SEA’s performance, as well as the caliber of their innovative music, hide introduced LUNA SEA to YOSHIKI, and EXTASY RECORDS. By March, they were part of EXTASY RECORDS’ "NUCLEAR FUSION TOUR," traveling with two other artists between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka, selling out every venue. Momentum was beginning to build as LUNA SEA‘s appeal continued to win over new fans everywhere they performed, which was reflected when LUNA SEA released and immediately sold out their first album, "LUNA SEA," on April 21, 1991. Such success immediately guaranteed LUNA SEA was one of the hottest, ripest products on the market, waiting to be picked by a major label. "Even though we were only 23 or 24, we were always being catered to by adults. Tons of men in business suits from the record company always came," SUGIZO recalls in an interview last year with Guitar Lab.
The boom of Visual Kei was surging, and the public was just beginning to accept it. LUNA SEA’s indies success with EXTASY RECORDS was enough to secure a deal with MCA Victor, becoming labelmates with BUCK-TICK; and in January 1992, with the establishment of their official fan club, SLAVE, LUNA SEA kicked off their final indies tour on March 20, 1992 to sold out audiences across the nation. Two months later, on May 21, 1992, LUNA SEA‘s first major release, IMAGE, found itself ranking No. 9 on the Oricon Charts. Shortly after the release, LUNA SEA embarked upon several back-to-back concert tours: "IMAGE or REAL," followed by an encore tour of the same name, and "AFTER THE IMAGE‚" for a total of 25 lives in a period of five months to an audience of 28,500 spread out throughout three nationwide tours between May and October 1992, rounding out the year with performances at the EXTASY SUMMIT 1992 at the Nippon Budoukan. 1992 also saw the release of their first video, "IMAGE or REAL," on July 22nd, which topped the Oricon at the coveted No. 1 spot; a feat few rock artists at that time could boast.
By 1993, LUNA SEA‘s success was undeniable, with their second album EDEN ranking No. 5 on the Oricon on April 21, 1993, followed by the "SEARCH FOR MY EDEN" tour. The tour took them to 14 stops across the country; all sold out mid-sized concert halls. LUNA SEA‘s fanbase was growing at a frenzied pace, and by the end of the year, they were headlining one-man shows at the Nippon Budoukan, a venue that can hold 15,000. One of these particular shows, originally scheduled for August 27th, had to be rescheduled to August 30th due to a typhoon, a phenomenon that would follow LUNA SEA throughout their career, prompting media to aptly name them "Arashi wo Yobu Bando," or "The Band that Invites Storms."
The following year opened with a sold-out live at the Yokohama Arena, a venue with a capacity of 17,000, on February 12, 1994 (that same day, the heaviest snow in twenty years happened to hit the region, yet another nod toward their storm-bringing moniker). Five months later on July 21st, their third single "ROSIER" was ranking in at No. 3 on the Oricon, followed by an exclusive sold out tour event with BUCK-TICK and SOFT BALLET between August 18th and 30th of that year (which was interrupted by yet another typhoon). LUNA SEA worked tirelessly, immediately following the tour with yet another single, "TRUE BLUE," which topped the Oricon at No. 1‚ the first of many chart-topping singles.
In many ways, LUNA SEA had become a veritable industry leader by that point in time, pushing forth the Visual Kei revolution and helping to set the pace along with their predecessors for would-be hopeful arrivals to the industry. Their look, considerably tamer than X JAPAN’s, and darker than GLAY’s, traveled on a spectrum from a dark, elegantly aristocratic gothic milieu, to an elaborate, dramatically wild punk look, softened by touches of glamour, spectrum visual kei bands still religiously follow today. Perhaps this was but one of many factors that helped propel them up the charts and the ladder of success, with their third album, MOTHER, debuting at No. 2 on the Oricon on October 26, 1994.
By 1995, Japan was settled in a LUNA SEA fever, with every release flying off the racks and topping the charts, in tandem with sold out venues across the country in a 27-stop, 31-performance tour. The febriculose climate culminated on December 23, 1995, with LUNA SEA selling out the Tokyo Dome, a venue that holds 50,000, the same day tickets went on sale. From a small high school band playing at tiny clubs in Kanagawa to selling one of the largest concert venues in Japan, LUNA SEA had come a long way, clawing and tearing their way to the very top of the music industry, amassing an enormous following; and they were hardly slowing down. Unlike many artists who become content once they have achieved the height of success, languishing in the spotlight and enjoying their new A-listing celebrity status, LUNA SEA revved up their engines to work even harder than before. Even selling out the Tokyo Dome in a single day wasn’t enough for the band, and by March 25, 1996, "END OF SORROW" was topping the charts, followed by an April 22nd album release of STYLE, which also stole the top spot of the Oricon. Three months later, on July 15th, "IN SILENCE" was selling out in retail stores across the nation, followed by sold out back-to-back concert tours, ‚"UN ENDING STYLE" and "UN ENDING STYLE ~TO RISE~," wrapping up the tour with "UN ENDING STYLE TOUR FINAL CHRISTMAS STADIUM." The three tours took them to 38 locations, where they performed 46 concerts to a collective audience of 110,000. It was at the final stop on their tour, at Yokohama Stadium, to an audience of 40,000, that LUNA SEA would announce a one-year hiatus for the members to work on solo projects.
Despite the lack of band activity in 1997, the two releases of that year, a video, REW, which summarized the band’s activity since their formation, and a two-disc collection, SINGLES, still debuted at No. 1 on the Oricon, with LUNA SEA returning back to the game on December 17, 1997, with a comeback live at Akasaka BLITZ that revealed a much more toned-down image.
As though they wanted to prove that their fans would stay loyal even though they’d mostly left behind their Visual Kei roots, LUNA SEA raised the bar even higher and set off 1998 with "STORM‚" seated at No. 1 on April 15th. Two months later, on June 3rd, in an unconventional move, LUNA SEA released two A-side singles, "SHINE" and "I for You," on the same day, taking both the first and second spots on the Oricon. Few artists have made such risky moves and actually succeed. Following this success a month later with the album release of SHINE on July 1st, ranking in, again, at No. 1. Their overwhelming popularity gave them several major endorsements, and also landed them with the theme song for Disney’s Japanese theatrical release of Mulan.
With all of these incredible achievements, as well as with "I for You" as the theme song for the Japanese drama, God, Please Give Me a Little More Time, LUNA SEA awareness was growing and spreading outside of Japan to neighboring Asian countries. The technological advances of the Internet also allowed fans to create mailing lists where they could congregate and share information about their favorite "new" band, as well as plan trips to Japan to see them at the sold out "REVIVE Manatsu no Yagai‚" Yokohama Stadium two-day concert series. It was at this concert that SUGIZO revived the Visual Kei look he’d left behind a year ago; this time sporting a familiar pink-and-black hairstyle as a tribute to hide, who had been like an older brother to him, and the rest of LUNA SEA. This tribute would continue throughout their "SHINING BRIGHTLY" tour, which would end at a two day, sold-out Tokyo Dome event on December 23rd and 24th. While their Japanese fanbase continued to grow, the rate of their success was predictable: every show would completely sell out minutes after tickets went on sale, regardless of the size of the venue; every release would top the charts and sell out in stores. Fans would wait for days in advance to secure their first copy of releases, lest it sell out before they could get their hands on a copy. There was no longer any room for growth; îLUNA SEA had reached the zenith of success in Japan, which was guaranteed at that point. The heart-rattling large unknown that they’d faced in the beginning, fueling their unstoppable drive, was nine years in the past, no longer present in their careers.
As such, in a very risky move, without even knowing what the size of their fanbase was overseas, LUNA SEA began their "LUNA SEA FIRST ASIAN TOUR 1999" on January 9, 1999 in Taipei, Taiwan before playing for a packed crowd on January 14th in Hong Kong, and finishing at Shanghai on January 17th. The risks involved in such a tour prompted a considerable amount of criticism from Japanese press and industry experts before they embarked upon it, especially in consideration of the fact that even on the day of the concerts, they were unaware of how many tickets had been sold, or how large the audience would be when they stepped on stage. Shanghai, in particular, ran the highest risks because LUNA SEA’s releases were not licensed for distribution in Mainland China, and there virtually were no concrete figures that could guarantee there would even be an audience there when LUNA SEA arrived at the venue. Essentially, this tour was a gamble on faith alone, and belief that there were fans out there, who wanted to see them live. But it was a gamble LUNA SEA was willing to take.
In a documentary of the tour, right before their Shanghai stop, RYUICHI explained, "What I think is, in Japan, we are kind of protected by our audiences. They hear the opening tune, and they cheer. But this time, we won’t know what will happen. And this is what we wanted. In Taiwan and Hong Kong… I think we did similar lives as in Japan. This time we didn’t know how many people would be waiting for us. How will the audiences react to us? We should normally know that… If we do the best we can do today, I think our live can impress the audience enough to tell their friends that it was a great live!"
SUGIZO seemed to agree, saying, "This may sound bad, but I think it’s almost impossible in Japan to have someone who can come to our concert without any knowledge about who we are. Most people know about us. The fans, the SLAVES, there are so many people who know who we are, so we can always have a wonderful live. That’s the most important time we can possibly have, and the most important occasion, but we no longer have the anxiety we felt before every live that we did about ten years ago. That kind of thrill simply isn’t there anymore. We wanted to keep it no matter how long we continue this band."
J added, "Things are different from Japan, but what we do on the stage is the same. We want to make everyone, including ourselves, happy. Such wishes don’t change anywhere we go. So I’m looking forward to this! These three gigs, I haven’t done the third one yet, but, the experiences we’ve gained here are really meaningful. And I’m excited and thrilled from the bottom of my heart. I’ve never felt like this before. I wonder how this will change LUNA SEA. It makes me look forward to the future. If we are completely devastated by tonight’s live, or if we do well, whichever the result, I think the fact we could come this far is wonderful."
Few Japanese rock artists had left the safety of home to perform overseas, especially in uncharted markets. However, LUNA SEA’s success opened the door for many other artists, who would go on to follow in their forefather’s footsteps years after LUNA SEA’s initial first run abroad.
Reinvigorated by the success they had in Asia, LUNA SEA began to plan for an unprecedented live in Japanese history to celebrate their ten year anniversary. Construction for the largest and most expensive stage (a billion yen, or $10 million dollars USD) in Japanese history began at the "TOKYO BIG SITE" in May 1999. However, as expected of "The Band that Invites Storms," a typhoon happened to strike Japan on May 27, 1999, two days before the live was originally scheduled. This particular storm was so violent that it destroyed the stage, rendering it virtually useless, and jeopardizing the outlook of LUNA SEA‘s 10 Year Anniversary Live. All five members of LUNA SEA, management, and event organizers arrived early in the morning, before the sun had risen, to survey the damage; their reactions caught on video and forever memorialized in the CAPACITY INFINITY [DOCUMENT]. It seemed apparent that the concert would have to be cancelled, a fate that the LUNA SEA members simply wouldn’t accept. Finally, after hours of deliberation, just as everyone was ready to give up, SUGIZO suggested, "Can’t we just use the ruins as a backdrop?" Almost immediately, the tables turned; the event was back on track, with the crew frantically working around the clock to restructure and rebuild the stage, constructing a new stage on top of the first stage’s ruins.
On May 29, 1999, day of their tenth anniversary, LUNA SEA released a live album, NEVER SOLD OUT, which again, placed high on the Oricon, a predecessor for the following day, one of the brightest days in LUNA SEA history: CAPACITY INFINITY.
In the wake of the destructive typhoon that’d just passed, the day started off relatively gloomy, but fans lined up early as planned, each running to claim a good spot at the event the moment the gates opened. One could only imagine what the experience was like; the exhilaration of being part of such a historical event; the surprise at the way the stage looked, with metal tumbled into a disjointed, fragmented work of postmodern art, rising skeletal behind the shell of its substitute, shattered equipment, gear, and wires still hanging from their original positions. It looked almost post-apocalyptic, casting a shadow across a stage that LUNA SEA would take to after the entire event space was filled with over 100,000 awaiting fans (a record that even today, only one other rock band, GLAY, has ever been able to surpass) chanting the name of the band they’d come to support, many cosplaying their favorite LUNA SEA members from all different eras of the band. Fans peered at the stage, waiting for LUNA SEA to emerge, only to be suddenly distracted by the sound of helicopters in the distance.
A fleet of five helicopters, each bearing a LUNA SEA logo, flew in formation over the crowd of awe-struck fans that cheered and waved up at the band, as a remix of Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" pumped through the sound system. With the choppers safely touching down, and LUNA SEA stepping on stage, joining their hands in a circle for the classic "IKU ZO!‚" (Let’s Go!) opener, another marker was placed on a legendary road.
Four months after this event, the DVDs for CAPACITY INFINITY and CAPACITY INFINITY [DOCUMENT] sat snugly at No. 1 and 2 on the Oricon. LUNA SEA would only perform one more time that year, jointly with GLAY on December 23, 1999 at "The Millenium Eve" Live to a sold-out Tokyo Dome.
The millennium began with yet another live event that was broadcasted to several Asian countries, this time, at Zepp Tokyo whose small capacity (3000) resulted in tens of thousands of fans lining up outside the event hall in hopes of catching an errant note or overhearing the wail of a guitar despite being unable to attend the actual event itself. Months later, "gravity" topped the charts on March 29, 2000, followed by "TONIGHT" on May 17th. During this time, LUNA SEA were preparing for yet another unprecedented event, the "PREMIERE of LUNACY 2000," a live that would only feature new songs off of their newest album, LUNACY, which hadn’t even been released yet. Such a move was unheard of in the Japanese music industry, and virtually no artist in the industry had ever attempted such an event before. But LUNA SEA was undeterred, simply because no one had done it before didn’t mean that should be a reason why they couldn’t be the first to try. With a set list made up of only tracks off of LUNACY, the band took to the stage at the Nippon Budoukan on May 23, 2000.
In a documentary made of the event, RYUICHI said, "The live is experimental. But if we look back to the situations that we’ve come through, it’s a very normal thing. We’ll reveal the songs from the new album in this live. We’ve been in this same routine for ages; going on a live tour after releasing a new album. We wanted to do what we used to do when we were in live houses. We wondered, "What if we perform new songs as a live band?" This is going to be a bit of a challenge."
Despite not knowing any of the new songs, the audience embraced the band and enjoyed the concert. In light of the success they had, J declared, "We’ll keep going, aiming even higher. As creators, I think that’s an inevitable duty for musicians."
With the release of LUNACY topping the charts as expected of such a legendary band on July 12, 2000, and the band’s usual nationwide back-to-back tour,"BRAND NEW CHAOS" and "BRAND NEW CHAOS ACT II," selling out as always, the future looked bright for LUNA SEA, especially as they extended the tour to stops in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
But on November 8, 2000, the scheduled release date of their newest single, in an unexpected twist of events, LUNA SEA called an emergency press conference in Hong Kong which created a frenzy at airports when scores of Japanese press had to rush to Hong Kong. At that conference, LUNA SEA announced they would be drawing their curtain for the final time in "THE FINAL ACT," a two-day event that would occur on December 26th and 27th of 2000, where they would perform for the final time for their fans.
Shocked and heartbroken by the revelation, fans across the country were never quite given a reason as to why their favorite band would be "drawing their curtains." The band members posted messages on their official website in an attempt to reach out to their fans.
J’s read: "It’s not so easy as to be able to put into words… We came up with this answer because we’ve been playing with all our might for 12 years. We’re still searching for something that will never ever end….We’re dead serious. Even now. Even from here on out. And forever will be," while INORAN promised,"We’ll keep on running straight through till the end of the year," and Shinya assured fans, "I’ll keep on going until I completely burn out."
SUGIZO apologized to fans with, "This was the most positive answer we came up with. I’m so sorry….. I can’t say anything more!! Anyway, we’ll keep on running with all our might till the end of the year. We’ll keep on shining. To everyone close to me… I love you so much."
RYUICHI‘s message, the most hopeful, read: "Time will zoom past, and the shape will change, but we haven’t given up on our dreams yet."
Yet another legacy was drawing to an end, but even up until the last moment, fans couldn’t quite understand why it was all ending. How was this a "positive answer?" How was it that they were not giving up on their dreams just yet?
Even with THE FINAL ACT selling out two nights of the Tokyo Dome, a sea of over fifty thousand fans stood in disbelief as they watched LUNA SEA perform, laughing together, crying together, joining together as one collective entity swept away by the music they’d all fallen in love with over the past decade, for the very last time. As fifty thousand fans joined with LUNA SEA in a final jump that rattled the heart of the dome, and the hearts of both the band and their fans, another chapter in rock and roll had come to an end.
Seven years after the drawing of the final curtain, the newest incarnation of their official website, lunaseagodblessyou.net, recalls the voices of the band and fifty thousand fans echoing in distant memory, singing a final "LOVE SONG" together: "I want to keep on embracing this dream that’s not going to end just yet, but / I miss you / I know someday / I love you / your wound will heal / I love you so/ Love Song Together / I’m never letting you go/ I miss you / We’ll make this dream happen again / I love you / someday."
Written by Kuri