Review: We Are X (2016)

We Are X (2016)

Directed by: Stephen Kijak | 90 minutes | music, documentary | Starring: Yoshiki, Toshimitsu Deyama, Tomoaki Ishizuka, Hiroshi Morie, Sugizo, Hideto Matsumoto, Taiji Sawada, Gene Simmons, Wes Borland, Richard Fortus, Marilyn Manson, Stan Lee

The music industry still keeps great secrets. It is nice if these are sometimes revealed by chance. A slightly curious music lover already knew before services like Spotify which paths to take to discover new music, but just like with other art forms such as books and films, so much is made that it is impossible to learn everything. X Japan is Japan’s biggest band, they’ve been around since the eighties, sold more than 30 million albums and played the sold-out Tokyo Dome stadium eighteen times (55,000 tickets a night!). Their very loyal fan base includes well-known names such as Stan Lee, David Lynch, Lars Ulrich (Metallica) and Gene Simmons (KISS). Don’t feel ashamed if you’ve never heard of them though, you’ll have to make an effort to find someone who did know the band before the release of Stephen Kijak’s rockumentary ‘We Are X’.

It should come as no surprise that the band’s history is one of ups and downs. In that sense ‘We Are X’ is neither innovative nor astonishing. Childhood friends Yoshiki and singer Toshi formed the band – then simply called X – in 1982 while they were in high school. Yoshiki, responsible for the music, lyrics, drums and keyboards, had a difficult childhood. He spent an average of one third of a year in hospital because he was very asthmatic. At the age of ten he found his father, who had just committed suicide. This trauma still has an effect on the musician, who received a drum set from his mother as a result of this violent event to express his aggression.

In the eighties X stood for a mix of heavy metal, punk rock and classical music. Their style was dubbed “Visual Kei”, where bleached hair with erect spikes, colorful makeup, and extravagant costumes were just tools for a performance that was unheard of by Japanese standards at the time. Of course they are strongly influenced by artists like David Bowie and Kiss, but their sound is undeniably unique, Japanese yes, yes. It is also typically Japanese that the band members never really show their backs. Although there are sometimes emotional statements, it is just as often said ‘I’d rather not talk about that’.

However, ‘We Are X’, as befits a good rockumentary, sufficiently addresses the lows: the (alleged) suicides of band members, the abandonment of singer Toshi because he was brainwashed by a cult (which labeled his source of income as ‘the devil’). X didn’t exist from 1997 to 2007, after that they really started working on their breakthrough in the United States. In 2014 they took the stage at Madison Square Gardens and the documentary shows how they worked towards that. Also beautiful are the images of fans who tell how the music has helped them through difficult times, such as after the death of a family member or loved one. ‘We Are X’ is mainly a film for those fans, but lovers of a well-made rockumentary that teaches the viewer some music history with great speed and compassion for the subject, can certainly have fun with this film.

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