Documentary director Stephen Kijak is clearly fascinated by band and “visual kei” pioneers X Japan and, although informative, the opening segment of We Are X teeters on the edge of pandering to founder Yoshiki – Japan’s David Bowie. The multi-million album-selling band’s driving force (composer, drummer, pianist) delves into his childhood and medical problems, and there’s heavy focus on his constant pain from performing. This insight does, however, provide a perfect example of giving one’s all to the music. It shows how pain – physical and emotional – can power an entire career.
The band’s development has been tinged with dramatic tragedy as the bond of childhood friendship between Yoshiki and vocalist Toshi is marred by a sacking, suicides, difficulties breaking the US, a crisis of confidence, cult brainwashing (really!) and a break up that became a decade-long hiatus.
We Are X considers the importance of origin in the music industry, and doesn’t shy away from frustrations that X Japan experienced when originally attempting to break into the American market – commented on aptly by the Israeli-born Gene Simmons. His contribution, alongside other musical legends like George Martin, gives credence to the idea that X Japan would have achieved global success had they been native English speakers.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, and sometimes Kijak (seemingly accidentally) reminds us of the absurdity of how the other half lives – sympathy is slightly limited for Yoshiki when he’s sitting in his souped-up super car, struggling with a sore throat.
X Japan are the biggest band you’ve never heard of. Impressively creative music – with metal, rock and classical influences – combines seamlessly with Toshi’s powerhouse vocals, and gives strong universal appeal. Although incredibly successful underdogs, We Are X undeniably grabs its audience and has them rooting for X Japan’s final breakthrough.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Kijak
SYNOPSIS: A documentary examining the trajectory – which includes record-breaking highs and devastating lows – of the most successful band in Japanese history, X Japan, as they prepare for a series of concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden.