If you haven’t the foggiest who X Japan is, don’t fret – neither did I, until I watched this super sleek, gorgeously glossy rockumentary about the biggest, most successfully band you’ve probably never heard of.
Stephen Kijak's film We Are X tells the story of X Japan, a phenomenally successful Japanese rock band that has not only sold over 30 million singles and albums, but which is also loved by globally influential musical artists including KISS, Stan Lee, and Marilyn Manson to name just a few.
Founded in 1982 by composer, pianist and drummer extraordinaire Yoshiki, X Japan has been wowing fans with their brand of theatrical glam metal for over three decades. Instigating similar reactions from fans as the Beatles did back in their prime, X Japan revolutionized rock music not only in Japan, but the world over. And yet, in the Western world, they have barely touched recognition. We Are X finally sheds a light on this wildly influential group, following X Japan as they prepare to finally cross the international music scene by performing to a massive audience in New York City's Madison Square Garden.
At first look, We Are X might appear to be a bog-standard music doc with its introductory concert footage and archival photo montages. However, as the story of X Japan unfolds, more screen time is granted to Yoshiki, the band's frontman, who proves to be a mesmerizing and deeply interesting cinematic subject.
Yoshiki is introduced to us as an enigmatic character whose existence is inextricably linked to the band. We are given the impression that without the band, Yoshiki would cease to live. Indeed, his frailty and poor health are presented to us in a way that makes us see his success and his musical talents as almost miraculous, giving Yoshiki an almost alien and spiritual dimension. We learn of his father's suicide when he was just a young boy and how he turned his subsequent youthful anger into a passionate work ethic, choosing to channel his strife and energy into drumming instead of destruction. And certainly, watching the footage of Yoshiki drumming is other-worldly, the speed and the precision of his abilities making his talents undeniably the best in the world. The frantic energy of his drumming seems to emanate from his body and soul, and it's no wonder that he often passes out at the end of a concert, his body unable to take the physical exertion to which he's submitted himself.
Through interviews with X Japan's various band members, we learn of the tumultuous journey the band has lived through, from a permanent rift with bassist Taiji, to the lead singer Toshi's "brainwashing" by a cult. These and the various other crises that are unveiled are treated with solemnity and import but yet with very little real insight. The band's initial dissolution in 1997 is brushed over with surprisingly little detail, and when questioned further about what exactly happened with bassist Taiji, Yoshiki is reluctant to discuss it further.
Having been made by the same production team as Oscar winning music documentary Searching for Sugarman (2012), I would have expected a similar quality of in-depth investigative documenting in this rockumentary. Although a fascinating look at one of the world's most overlooked bands, We Are X remains somewhat epidermal in substance. It's a shame that the creative talents that make up this band aren't looked at with more insight, as they are all clearly captivating characters. However, their unwillingness to divulge the more juicy details of their own history makes for an entertaining albeit not completely satisfying watch. Their mantra is We Are X, but sadly I'm still left wondering who is X?