We are X

Shedding light on one of Japan’s most culturally impactful rock bands.

by Nicolas Ruibal

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Widely known for producing the oscar-winning “Searching for Sugarman”, Passion Pictures chose, for their latest documentary, to shed light on one of Japan’s most influential rock bands: X Japan. In “We Are X”, we follow Yoshiki, the drummer, pianist, bandleader, and de facto cheerleader in his emotive recounting of the band’s tragic and eventful history.

X Japan is a cultural phenomenon, and if the scenes depicting fans suffering emotional breakdowns upon learning of one band member’s death are any indication, the film does a great job in exposing why X Japan is so important. The current Japanese rock landscape is testament of the band’s influence. While many Western viewers may equate them to KISS, or the 80’s sunset strip bands, X Japan are much more. They will certainly not deny they were influenced by KISS, but visually, they took the approach to Kabuki-style makeup and amplified it tenfold, blurring gender-lines in the process. When you look at old pictures of Yoshiki, he looks like a very attractive woman. X Japan pioneered the style of music that is a widely known as Visual Kei, or “the visual way”, where bands will place incredible emphasis on a look that is both androgynous and very beautiful. Sonically, the band stands at the cross-roads between melodic speed metal and symphonic prog, with deeply emotional ballads peppered in, for good measure. This approach influenced the looks of countless bands coming from the land of the rising sun, who then created their own brand of visually impactful rock and metal music.

Yoshiki’s upbringing and tragic life story serves as the central plot line for the film, which offers us many other parallel plots. The movie begins at X Japan’s triumphant show in New York, with the opening scenes offering an unprecedented vantage point to the October 2014 show that all who travelled to Madison Square Garden on that day, including yours truly, were lucky enough to witness. Needless to say, the visual impact of reliving those scenes on a big screen is undeniable. Another testament to the band’s global popularity: crowd members had flown in from San Francisco, China, Hong Kong and even Switzerland to see X Japan in action.

An aura of mystique permeates the band, as Yoshiki looks back on the formative years of the group and how he pieced together this crew of misfit brothers with exploding hair. We are presented with each of the band members, and how their own life-story intertwines with Yoshiki’s. The singer, Toshi, joined his friend to start the band in high school, building on a friendship that began when both were in kindergarten.

Throughout the entire picture, we can see how X Japan is truly a vehicle for Yoshiki’s expression of personal tragedies and pain.

From there, the documentary takes us through X Japan’s meteoric rise, and describes the tragedies that hit the band members, including suicides and Toshi’s involvement with an unnamed cult, which halted the band’s progression for almost a decade.

Throughout the entire picture, we can see how X Japan is truly a vehicle for Yoshiki’s expression of personal tragedies and pain. Live performances are a constant fight for survival, as the drummer does not hold anything back, and leaves band members and the audience wondering if there will even be a next show… The audience can make their own minds up as to whether Yoshiki is overdoing it or not. Ultimately, he is calling all the shots, and paints the picture he wants us to see.

While the movie ends on a triumphant note, one feels that the many parallel plotlines do not truly tell us what this movie is about. Is it about Yoshiki’s life? X Japan’s influence? The band member’s friendship? All of the above? None of the above? There are enough solid narratives that could have served as a backbone for the film, but Kijack sidesteps this, blurring lines, and manages to avoid cementing this into a cohesive whole.

Upon reflection, perhaps that was the point all along. Proposing various narratives in a blur allows the viewer to make their own mind up, and most importantly, carefully keeps the band’s mystique intact.
I watched the movie with a non-connoisseur and the one thing that was certain upon reaching the film’s conclusion, was that you want to know more about this band. You want to see them live, and experience the emotion that is so well translated in “We Are X”.
The band’s next show is scheduled for March 12th, 2017, in London. No doubt, many will fly from all over the world to witness this phenomenon in the flesh.

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