Memento mori: remembering legendary BUCK-TICK vocalist Atsushi Sakurai


Buck Tick Atsushi Sakurai

The haunting and versatile music of legendary rock band BUCK-TICK has echoed through the heart of Japan since 1983. With silky vocals and articulate, passionate lyrics, Atsushi Sakurai fronted one of Japan’s most prominent rock bands for over 38 years. The acclaimed singer and lyricist left Japan and the rest of the world devastated on October 19, 2023, when he passed away suddenly from a brain stem hemorrhage during a concert.

Formed in 1983, BUCK-TICK is often credited for being one of the founders of the visual kei movement of the 80s and 90s. The band has kept the same lineup for more than 38 years and 23 studio albums, and Sakurai was the vocalist for every one of those years up until his recent passing. Well known for his velvety singing, distinctive features, and unforgettable stage performances, Sakurai was a firecracker in the music world.

Songs such as “Just One More Kiss”, “Aku no Hana”, and “Dress”, which was featured as the opening theme song to the popular vampire anime Trinity Blood, propelled the band to fame early on in Sakurai’s career. In 1989, Taboo, the fourth album released by BUCK-TICK, became the band’s first number one album on the Oricon Albums Chart. BUCK-TICK and Sakurai’s career continued to take flight after the release of Taboo, and almost all of their 23 albums reached the top ten position on the Oricon Albums Chart, the most recent being Izora, which was released this year a few months before Sakurai’s death.

BUCK-TICK – Just One More Kiss (MV)

Sakurai launched his solo work in 2004 which consisted of several singles and one album, “Ai no Wakusei”, which peaked on the Oricon Albums Chart at #15 that same year. Additionally, 2004 featured Sakurai starring in his own short film, Longinus, which put the film at #16 on the Oricon DVDs Chart, a milestone for the vocalist’s career. Sakurai also joined forces with BUCK-TICK’s guitarist, Hisashi Imai, to create the band Schwein alongside fellow musicians Raymond Watts and Sascha Konietzko from popular industrial band KMFDM.

Sakurai’s three decade career and contributions to the musical community are immense. He was an influential figure both inside and outside of the music world and inspired many with his enigmatic image and rich vocals. In 2011, he was labeled as a “Japanese rock god” by magazine Metropolis. In well known manga Zetsuai 1989, the character Kouji Nanjo, who is a rock singer in the manga, was inspired by Sakurai and manga artist Ami Shibata has admitted to modeling several of her own characters on him.

The loss of Atsushi Sakurai has had an immense impact on Japan and the rest of the world; the wound of his sudden passing is still fresh in the minds of many. On December 8 and 9 of this year, a flower offering and memorial ceremony for Sakurai will be held at Zepp Hanena in Tokyo, Japan. Fans will have a chance to give their condolences and express their grief, which for many has already been reverberating across the country.

In the song “Heaven” from the album Memento Mori, Sakurai said it best – “Our soaring wings cast a single shadow / You’re flying, spreading colors through the sky / You’re flying, soaring, holding all of Heaven”. May you fly high, Atsushi Sakurai, while the rest of the world looks up in awe.

Buck Tick Atsushi Sakurai