"There's nothing original about me, it’s all about him": Inside the mind of guitarist Akio Sakurai, the Jimmy Page fan whose devotion is the subject of a new film

 Akio Sakurai onstage
Akio Sakurai and theremin onstage (Image credit: Abramorama)

When Akio Sakurai discovered Led Zeppelin’s music as a teenager, he could never have envisaged the path it would lead him down – one where passion and obsession blur into each other.

This former salesman and guitarist is the subject of Mr Jimmy, a strange but oddly touching documentary about Sakura’s 40-year quest to immaculately recreate the music of Zeppelin, and specifically his hero Jimmy Page with his band Led Zep Again in Japan and then, later, the US.

The documentary paints a portrait of a man driven by a passion for Zeppelin, and a desire to honour their music by inhabiting it rather than merely playing it. Sakurai is a kind of real-life avatar of Page himself, copying not just the Zeppelin’s guitarist’s playing style, but also his onstage mannerisms, stage costumes and haircut. 

It also captures Akio’s perfectionism. At one point, he can be seen intently studying the creases in a top Jimmy Page wore in the early 70s, so he can get the woman making it to replicate it to the stitch. After he moves to the US, he clashes with a singer who want to deviate from the patter Robert Plant used onstage during Zeppelin’s heyday. This attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed by Jimmy Page, who turned up to see Led Zep Again play a Tokyo bar in 2012. "You take me back to that time,” Page told Sakurai. “You remind me what I did on the stage.”

Talking to Classic Rock via Zoom, with the help of a translator, Sakurai explains the root of his love for Zeppelin comes from and why he doesn’t see himself as a Jimmy Page obsessive.


When did you decide to dedicate your life to playing Led Zeppelin’s music?

I didn’t think that it was going to be such a long journey through my while life. When I was 17, I started copying their music, but at the beginning, I was just copying it without any emotion. As I started getting older, say around 30, I started to understand the meaning of their music. After 40, I was able to expand my musical abilities more. After 50, I finally started to express my music with emotion. Music needs to be played with soul – that’s the difference between me when I was younger and me now.

What is it about Led Zeppelin that is so special for you?

It’s about how I feel when I’m playing their music. If I cannot play their music, I wouldn’t play guitar any more.

The attention to detail is incredible - not just the music, but the clothes, your stage moves. Why is it so important for it to be so details?

It’s not just about copying, it’s not a tribute. It’s a revival. I have to play exactly like then, which is why I listen to their music in so much detail. With the costumes, it’s like an actor can only step into character when they wear the costume. If they are playing a gang member, they have to wear gang suits. That’s why I have really detailed costumes.

There’s footage in the documentary of Jimmy Page turning up at one of your shows in Tokyo in 2012. What was that night like?

When I saw Mr Jimmy Page had come to my show, I thought he was there in a light-hearted way. But when he came into the venue, he walked straight toward me and looked at my ’59 Les Paul and said, ‘Oh, I have one too.’ That was a really impressive moment.

The venue was really small, about 50 people, so I could see him all the time during the performance. When I was playing in front of him, I was playing as if I was having a conversation through the music. It was like I was asking him, ‘Is this correct? Is this phrasing correct?’ 

He waited until the end of the show to talk to us, even though he’d just arrived in Tokyo from London that day. He asked me, ‘How did you copy so many details?’ He said that when I played Dazed And Confused, he was very moved by the song. That was a great compliment.

Did you get emotional meeting him?

He’s a person I’ve seen in photos and videos, so of course I was very excited when I saw Mr Jimmy Page in front of me. For a long time, I had wanted to ask him if I could continue this, because some musicians hate to be copied. I wish I spoke English better, so I could have talked to him more. But he gave me a big hug and a handshake. That was a wonderful moment for me. I could even smell his cologne. 

What did he smell like?

[Laughs] Really nice.

You have your costumes tailor-made, you play a vintage ’59 Les Paul like Jimmy Page. How expensive is it to do what you do?

I cannot count how much I've spent on it. But I’ve been lucky with the equipment, like the ’59 Les Paul, I’ve been able to get them in great condition but a little cheaper. It’s like a sushi conveyer belt – all the equipment I’ve wanted to have has somehow appeared in front of me. I have all the costumes and equipment I need to have, but I would never say it’s finished, because I’ll always find some more detail that I’ll have to arrange, so it costs more and more every time.

Some people might say your behaviour is obsessive. Is it?

I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed, because no matter how hard I pursue, he’s too cool for me. No matter how hard I pursue it, I can't be him. I always have to learn from him, There's nothing original about me, it’s all about him.

Why are you doing this? What do you get out of recreating Led Zeppelin’s music so meticulously?

It‘s not for money, it’s for happiness. When a painter sees a great landscape or a beautiful person, they will want to paint it. I’m like that with Led Zeppelin’s music. When I listen to it, I want to reproduce it, to express it perfectly with the same sound. When I do this, I feel happy, especially when I’m able to share the music with an audience in person.

If push comes to shove, what‘s your favourite Led Zeppelin album?

I really love The Houses Of The Holy and The Song Remains The Same. The Song Remains The Same was the first album I bought.

And who’s your second favourite guitarist?

That’s hard. Tom Scholz from Boston. Or Steve Howe from Yes. 

Mr Jimmy is in theatres now.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.