You might remember me from my article The Art of the Idol Drama. Now I’m back, tackling a different genre altogether! This time around I’ll be talking about the niche musical genre of Visual Kei in dramaland. So firstly…
What is Visual Kei (also known as VKei)?
There are a lot of definitions and a lot of sub-genres within it. However, Yoshiki of the band X Japan coined the term 'Visual Kei', originally as 'Psychedelic Violence - Crime of Visual Shock'. It’s more or less defined by the use of varying levels of make-up, elaborate hair styles, rock/punk/alternative musical influence and flamboyant costumes, and often but not always androgyny. It’s really similar to Western glam rock in appearances originally. Nowadays a lot of VKei bands still have ‘a look’, but it’s less glam and more alternative street style.
So how does this relate to dramas/movies? Well, as you can guess the visual aspect slowly carried over into a few dramas and movies, with some VKei stars becoming fairly well-rounded actors. Below I’ll be listing off the actors/dramas/movies that are majorly linked to the genre.
Akira and the group Disacode are a bit of a rarity in VKei, since the band originally consisted exclusively of women in a male-dominated genre. Disacode has since shifted around a few members so it’s no longer all female, and currently on unofficial hiatus. Akira is thriving with her solo career and modeling.
She made her acting debut in the live-action adaptation of Be Crazy About Me as Kaoru, surprise, the lead singer of fictional group Blue Rozen (Blue Roses). Her role in the film was mildly difficult since it’s acting versus her usual fan service. Akira has had some practice in ‘acting’ as a prince character in Lolita fan meetings she’s attended over the years. Her stage presence as Kaoru is no joke, though, given her actual experience. Despite being an ‘okay’ adaptation of the film, it was pretty well received by her fans and the drama community.
Takeru is part of a well established and long running V-Kei band called SuG who have gone through more than a few ups and downs. Overall, Takeru has always been the most favored member and a well-known vocalist within the genre.
He made his acting debut in Aquarian Age, but among the VKei fans, he’s best known for his role in BeatRockLove as the lead singer Shin. If you’re looking for some easy watching and a more gentle introduction to the VKei scene, I highly recommend this movie. The movie is centered on LOVE DIVING, a session band, attempting to gain a major label contract. It follows their ups and downs and conquers some of the real issues within the VKei scene. Takeru has since starred in Paracelsus’ Homunculus and held a supporting role in The Camellia Girl.
Transitioning away (briefly) from actors and actresses, let’s talk about movies and dramas specifically created by Visual Kei bands.
This film sticks out for a number of reasons. The first reason is that the film was released after Malice Mizer's disbandment in 2001. It was a gift for their dedicated fanbase and the first VKei film, filmed with the intent of showing the members' personalities to the fans, but in a new direction outside of concert films and music videos. In a world of sound and color, this film was shot in black and white and (mostly) silent. (It was filmed in 2002 by the way.) Guitarist and leader Mana, well-known for his eccentric ways and muteness, was the main cause for these choices, as well as the choice of plot, which is an adaptation of 'Dracula'.
Considering how much this movie sticks out, it’s difficult to watch. Mostly due to the type of pacing a silent film has to have which is pretty slow and you have to really focus and watch closely, especially during the dialogue cut scenes. It’s worth a watch if you’re looking for something relatively short to shake things up. The acting isn’t great but isn’t terrible either.
Honestly, for a lot of Versailles fans, no one likes to talk about this mini-drama. Coming in at 11 episodes around 5 - 7 minutes in length, this is one of the most cringe-worthy things I’ve watched over the years, both as a fan of Versailles and a drama fan. The series centers on the members of Versailles granting one very demanding little girl’s wishes. Done purely for fan entertainment and at Kamijo (the lead singer)’s demand, this drama is really poorly shot and directed. This drama isn’t really worth the watch unless I’ve made you truly curious, or you have about an hour to kill on YouTube.
Golden Bomber is not necessarily a VKei band, so much as an ‘air’ Visual Kei Band, aka a parody band. There is a heavy debate on whether or not Golden Bomber counts as VKei, considering they’ve named popular boy group Arashi as their goal for popularity, and their commercial success. Due to their original demographic as a VKei band, I’ve included them here.
Where to even begin with Sori Nokoshita Natsu… It’s bad. Like, worse than Onegai Kaneta Versailles. It’s a parody of rom-coms and Boys Love movies but appears to have been filmed with the cheapest equipment in the shortest amount of time possible. Please take a look at my full review to understand how bad it is. I love this band, but this is a god-awful movie. Its one redeeming point is Kyan, whom I’ll talk about in the last paragraph of this section.
All four members of Golden Bomber appear in HiGH&LOW as the main lackeys for the White Rascal’s gang. I was utterly shocked when I saw Shou and Kyan on screen the first episode they appeared. Turns out the companies (Zany Zap and LDH) know each other, and that’s how they got hooked into the project. Their appearance in HiGH&LOW is significantly better than their first film, and overall a dramatic improvement.
Additionally, Kyan as an individual has actually carved out some acting roles over the years in Til Death Do Us Part, 49, as well as a few others. He’s not out there claiming names like other actors, but he’s certainly making his presence known outside of Golden Bomber.
Miyavi was originally part of two VKei bands, Due le Quartz and then S.K.I.N. He’s since gone solo, gotten married, and transitioned from Visual Kei to Rock. However, his roots in VKei are not forgotten, and his turn around from one niche movie to a Hollywood production needs mentioning.
Oresama is Miyavi’s only Japanese film role as of yet. The movie stars himself, traveling back in time to…? Rock the past? A simple time slip? You’ll have to watch. For it being a fairly simple plot, Miyavi walks the fine line of being himself and actually acting.
I don’t know whether Angelina Jolie ever saw Oresama but she did a killer job casting Miyavi in her Hollywood production Unbroken. Miyavi’s acting skills have gone through the roof, and he’s since gained international attention for both acting and his music. His discipline for the movie has been talked about multiple times, especially since some of the scenes caused him to physically react afterward. Talk about dedication.
Here’s hoping that Miyavi will be cast in more Japanese films or International ones in the future!
Gackt was originally a part of Malice Mizer, and then left the group to go solo. He’s since conquered multiple medias as a voice actor, a Vocaloid (he provides the base for Gackpoid), as well as stage dramas and has quite a few acting roles under his belt, including Bunraku. His roles in movies and dramas span multiple genres but he is best known for being Shiki Takashi in the Akumu-chan series.
Hyde is the lead singer of both L~Arc~en~Ciel and VAMPS as well as a solo artist. His influence in Visual Kei, as well as Japanese rock music, is undeniable. Unlike Gackt, he only ever starred in Moon Child and the unrelated title Last Quarter of the Moon.
Moon Child is the number one film every VKei fan knows. Literally, every fan of Visual Kei I have ever met knows this title and has watched it once if not multiple times. It’s not the first movie produced with Visual Kei members acting in it, but the movie is the most iconic for fans. Moon Child was the debut role for both Gackt and Hyde, showcasing what the world could come to and the secret that binds the two of them together forever. Additionally, it has both Chinese and Japanese dialogue, separating it from previously mentioned titles.
While there is not a lot of overlap between Visual Kei and the drama/movie world, there are enough actors to make a point. Most VKei movies/dramas aren’t meant to be more than an extension of the performers themselves, but as you can see, a lot of these names are fairly well known even in the drama community. Personally, I don't see Visual Kei performers leaping over into dramaland like idols, but it's fun to see what's already out there.
If you guys made it through this whole article, I hope you walk away with a little more knowledge, and maybe even some musicians to check out and new titles to watch!