From the producers of the academy award winning Searching for Sugar Man comes this brilliant documentary, chronicling of the biggest band you’ve never heard of. Fronted by the enigmatic drummer Yoshiki, X Japan are an era defining metal band that kick started a rock explosion and challenged conservative Japanese culture. Theirs is a story that incorporates brainwashing cults, numerous suicides and what I can only assume constitutes an ozone threatening level of hairspray. We are X finds the band at a point, where, after decades of localised fame, they have finally managed to crack America on a major scale. Building upon years of increased exposure on the internet, the film is told through archival footage, interviews and the build up to a sell out show in Madison Square Garden.
While X Japan have an extensive list of current and former members, the artistic vision of heavy metal lifer and band leader Yoshiki has remained at its core. And it is Yoshiki who acts as similar anchor for the films narrative. We see the build up to their New York show through his eyes and hear accounts of the bands history mainly from his recollections. Having such candid access to genuinely revered musician constitutes documentary gold dust and the filmmakers make great use of his ever-alluring presence. Yoshiki is nothing sort of a musical idol, a man who dreamed he came from Mars and lived as a Martian with Japanese culture. Yoshiki is presented as a precocious child, a morbid adolescent, but above all he comes across as an artist. Like all great musicians of all genres, one comes away from this film with the feeling that Yoshiki simply had to play music to millions of people, as some kind of cosmic justice for the hardships he had to endure as a young man.
In the pantheon of musical fandoms X Japan’s cult-like following must rank somewhere near the top. Their fans claim X Japan’s music keeps them alive and one would be drawn towards calling this hyperbole were it not for the literal examples of fans committing suicide over the news of the band’s break up. A moment of national mourning occurs after the initial breakup and after the suicide of numerous band members. However, even before the wrought tragedy of the bands later years, their halcyon days of first signing to a major label induce scenes recalling Beatle-Mania at its peak. As an avowed music lover, watching We are X was in parts a humbling experience, like viewing an alternative timeline of musical history, one in which all the ‘greatest ever bands’ weren’t all Western and all stories hadn’t been told ad nausea. As Gene Simmons, points out, if X Japan had been born in America and spoke English they may just have been the biggest band in the world.
The explosive, frenetic energy of the bands live shows are juxtaposed effectively with moments of backstage quiet and awkward hospital appointments. The effect of which is to bring both the viewers and these monolithic rock gods down to earth in-between flights of fancy. There are stylish graphic interludes which do a good job of capturing the spectacle and in-your-face emotion of their live shows. With that being said I was often thrown by intercutting the tragic history of the band with live show footage. By the end it became hard to decipher whether this was true emotion unfolding stage or rather out and out rock pomposity. Whatever the case, I fully enjoyed watching a band display emotion in such wrought, un-ironic fashion. It’s amazing to glimpse back and revel in a time when rock bands still ruled the earth. And while bands like X Japan may not have the same draw they once did, this documentary affirms one of Yoshiki’s own truisms; that unlike musical trends, ‘pain simply does not age’.
Dir: Stephen Kijak
Scr: Stephen Kijak
Featuring: Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata
Prd: John Battsek, Diane Becker, George Chignell
DOP: Sean Kirby, John Maringouin
Run time: 93 mins
We are X is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 22nd May 2017