‘We Are X’ Review
By Stephanie Brandhuber
Hailed as one of the greatest living bands there is and praised for their revolutionary prog rock sound, X Japan is the biggest, most successful band you’ve probably never heard of. Now, featured in this incredibly sleek rockumentary, the Western world will finally discover what it’s been missing out on for the past three decades.
Stephen Kijak’s glossy documentary We Are X tells the never before told story of X Japan, the phenomenally successful Japanese rock band that has not only sold over 30 million singles and albums, but whose fan base includes globally influential music and entertainment maestros including KISS, Marilyn Manson, and Stan Lee 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. Watching them walk through a crowd is eerily similar to how the Beatles were greeted by fans in their heydey, with screaming girls and fainting teens littering the streets as they pass by. X Japan revolutionised rock music not only in Japan, but the world over. Yet somehow in the Western world, they have barely touched recognition. We Are X finally sheds a light on this wildly influential group, following the band 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 just another 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 with his Michael Jackson-like demeanour, gives off an electrifying aura of mystery.
Yoshiki is introduced to us as an enigmatic character whose existence is inextricably linked to the band. We get the impression that without the band, Yoshiki would cease to live. Indeed, his frailty and poor health lead us to believe that his success and his musical talents as practically 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 nothing short of 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 of his furious movements.
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 also seem to skirt around the edges of investigative depth. Whereas this could seem like a criticism and therefore a weak point in the film, the band’s cautious attitude towards revealing their darkest secrets only serves to increase their mystery and ultimately gives them a respectful, heroic dimension. This documentary is not here to serve as a dirty gossip rag, it’s here to enlighten and provide a platform on which to recognise this band’s incredible musical journey.
Made by the same production team as Oscar winning music documentary Searching for Sugarman (2012), it’s unsurprising that this latest project of theirs is of a similar calibre. We Are X is truly a fascinating look at one of the world’s most overlooked bands, and it is gratifying that the rest of the world will finally bear witness to these incredible Japanese cultural icons. The band’s mantra chanted by fans is “We Are X” and certainly, after watching this enlightening documentary, it’s safe to say “We Are X too.”
(Photos copyright:Passion Pictures, Prettybird)