Directed by: Stephen Kijak | 90 minutes | music, documentary | Featuring: 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 continues to keep great secrets. It is nice when these are sometimes revealed by chance. A bit of curious music lover already knew before services like Spotify which ways 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 about everything. X Japan is Japan’s largest band, they have been around since the eighties, sold more than 30 million albums and played eighteen times in the sold-out Tokyo Dome stadium (55,000 tickets per night!). Well-known names such as Stan Lee, David Lynch, Lars Ulrich (Metallica) and Gene Simmons (KISS) are among their very loyal fan base. Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of them though, you’ll have to struggle to find someone who did know the band before the release of “We Are X,” a rockumentary by Stephen Kijak.
It should come as no surprise that the band’s history is one of ups and downs. “We Are X” is also not innovative or surprising in that sense. Childhood friends Yoshiki and vocalist Toshi founded 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 troubled childhood. He spent an average of a 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 celebrate his aggression.
In the eighties, X stood for a mix of heavy metal, punk rock and classical music. Their style was called “Visual Kei”, where bleached hair with upright spikes, colorful make-up, 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 unmistakably their own, Japanese is, yes. Typically Japanese is that the band members never really show the back of their tongues. Although there are sometimes emotional statements, it is also just as often said, “I’d rather not talk about that.”
However, ‘We Are X’, as befits a good rockumentary, still deals sufficiently with the dips: the (alleged) suicides of band members, the leaving of vocalist Toshi because he was brainwashed by a cult (who labeled his source of income as ‘the devil’). X did not exist from 1997 to 2007, after which they really started to work 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 it. Also beautiful are the images of fans telling how the music has helped them get through difficult times, such as after the death of a family member or loved one. “We Are X” is primarily a film for those fans, but fans of a well-made rockumentary that teaches the viewer some music history with a lot of speed and compassion for the subject, can certainly have fun with this film.