By Andrew Bansal
The best part of being a music lover in the 21st century is the opportunity to discover the wealth of great music that shaped subsequent generations of musicians, and at some point, had a direct or indirect impact on music that’s current today. With easy access to the internet and tools like YouTube and Spotify, people are constantly expanding their musical knowledge base. In addition, once in a while there comes an officially sanctioned, professionally compiled documentary film focusing on one certain hard rock/heavy metal band, and more such films have been released in recent times. Oftentimes, this genre centers around glorification and romanticization of the highs and lows of the rock n’ roll life, but in the case of Japanese power/speed/glam/symphonic/progressive metal veterans X Japan, the unmistakably intense and powerful ‘We Are X’ captures a very real, genuine story of this unique band and its eccentric protagonist. First screened at the Sundance Festival in January 2016 and premiered in the US on October 21st, ‘We Are X’ was shown as part of the International Documentary Association series on November 14th at the Landmark in Los Angeles along with a post-screening Q&A with director Stephen Kijak, and Metal Assault does not regret accepting the invite.
X Japan formed in 1982 and playing a blend of various sub-genres, each of which they mastered, they went around Japan presenting their ‘visual kei’ style of heavy metal wherein their image is built on outrageous makeup and costumes and the live show boasts of elaborate usage of lights and pyrotechnics. They became an arena act in Japan but didn’t break through in the international market until 2010 when they played their first US shows and followed it up with a world tour in 2011. ‘We Are X’ depicts the true magnitude of this band, which goes beyond what most people realize, specially those outside Japan. The film shows what X Japan meant to fans in their home country and the extent to which the ups and downs in the band’s career, interpersonal relationships and lineups directly affected the masses. But more so, ‘We Are X’ is the story of drummer, pianist and principal songwriter Yoshiki, chronicling the band’s journey from his perspective as well as delving into his personal life.
Besides archival video, the film revolves around footage from X Japan’s 2014 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York, shot brilliantly and portrayed beautifully, particularly the slow-motion sequences of Yoshiki, and the entire story is told as a flashback from the opening scene at MSG. The viewer is instantly captivated by the undeniable star power of Yoshiki and feels connected to the film from start to finish. Interviews with other members and their perspectives of the band’s career are also well-presented. The film does not shy away from digging deep into the darkest days of X Japan, from lineup changes, to members committing suicide, to the breakup, and from that, transitions excellently to the reunion and the modern-day version of the band.
The story alone isn’t the only component of the film, as plenty of the band’s music is also highlighted, and the piano intro from the 1991 ‘Jealousy’ album is heavily featured in the soundtrack, making certain moments all the more powerful and intense. Interviews with journalists and American musical celebrities are also included to indicate the band’s growing impact outside of Japan. The biggest and most influential hard rock/heavy metal in Japan, they should be the biggest band in the world. ‘We Are X’ comes at the right time and has all the ingredients to introduce the passionate genius of Yoshiki and his band mates. If this film does not make one explore X Japan, nothing will.
Many musicians and bands have received the documentary treatment in the recent past, but more than any of them, X Japan deserved a tell-all film. ‘We Are X’ does complete justice to this larger-than-life band, and within its genre, stands out as the finest film ever made.
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