The story of legendary post-punk Japanese band X Japan straddles three decades of exhilarating performances, acrimonious relationships, and countless fallings-out between band members. Set against the background of the group’s 2014 reunion gig at Madison Square Garden, We Are X aims to shine a light on the cult status of the band, especially its enigmatic virtuoso drummer-turned-pianist-turned-composer, Yoshiki.
Formed in 1982 by childhood school-friends Yoshiki and Toshi, X Japan were heralded as national heroes by their Japanese fans, but have until recently remained largely unknown by mainstream music fans. After initial success amongst its mostly teenage followers, the band found itself locked in countless petty arguments. Especially bassist Taiji, who would eventually be sacked by Yoshiki. But it was the fallout between Toshi and the rest of the band, after he joined a religious cult, which eventually resulted in the disbanding of X Japan in 1990s.
Kijak uses footage of the band’s most memorable performances, featuring elaborate pyrotechnics, screaming fans and not to mention Yoshiki’s dramatic antics on stage. The film capitalises on the band’s singular visual aspect and androgynous punk aesthetics, plus the Beatles-esque mayhem of screaming and fainting fangirls and boys at the height of their fame. Added to that, there are a series of talking-head interviews, mostly with Yoshiki – who is either melodramatic or evasive about what happened to the band behind closed doors.
Some viewers might question Kijak’s decision to make Yoshiki into the film protagonist can for a number of reasons: his refusal to elaborate on the many tragic accounts surrounding the suicide of two band members, and his cageyness around his own private life. That said, a subplot centring around Yoshiki’s own childhood and the suicide of his father adds a touch of mystique to the proceedings.
As rockumentaries go, We Are X is rather formulaic in its narrative, and not a particularly dirty movie. It’s the band that makes the film stand out from the crowd, plus the empathy you will feel towards these people. On the other hand, We Are X is very neatly put together film, and also a very touching piece of filmmaking. Kijak extrapolates beyond the curiosity towards this exotic outfit; he also manages to highlight the amount of love and respect that the band gets from their fans.
One of the most touching moments of the film is a series of sequences of fans from every corner of the the world queuing outside venues to see them. They come from every continent, and they are of every colour and creed. It would have been interesting to delve a little more into this aspect of fandom and hero worship directed at Yoshiki in particular. On the whole, We Are X isn’t without its faults – there are some serious narrative gaps, and a lot of questions surrounding other members of the band remain unanswered. But it does exactly what it set out to do. It manages to entertain, thrill and inspire its audience, and ultimately might even result in the band gaining more fans as the awe and fascination towards them grows.
The movie was produced By John Battsek, Diane Becker, Jonathan McHugh and Jonathan Platt, and edited by Mako Kamitsuna and John Maringouin. The cinematography belongs to Sean Kirby and John Maringouin, and the music score was composed By Yoshiki himself.
We are X was out in cinemas in February. The Steelbook and DVD were made available on May 22nd.