We Are X, a new documentary from the producers of Searching for Sugar Man, charts the complex rise of Japan’s most successful rock band, but skims over the most interesting details.
The concept of pain as an inspiration for art is certainly nothing new, but for Japanese virtuoso Yoshiki, it seems that art brings constant pain.
His life as the leader of Japan’s biggest rock band is filled with cortisone injections, looming surgeries, neck and wrist braces. His intensely fierce drumming literally leaves him breathless, collapsed on the stage, weak and gasping for air.
“The pain never disappears,” Yoshiki says, and as Steven Kijak’s new rockumentary We Are X unfolds, we learn that the musician isn’t just talking about physical pain. Indeed, it turns out devastating personal losses have created a glam-rock God, and driven a band to superstardom.
The film tells the story of X Japan, the island nation’s most popular rock group, a true cultural phenomenon. Lead by drummer, pianist, composer and producer Yoshiki, the band formed in 1982, released their first album in 1988 and rocketed to fame soon after. With their visual rock style punctuated by elaborate hair and makeup, and their fast-paced, hard-hitting music, X Japan has amassed legions of diehard fans and has sold 30 million records worldwide.
The documentary is set against the backdrop of the band’s preparations for their big reunion concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2014. The bulk of the story unfolds through archival materials – news items, press conferences, and concert footage with key moments backstage. Filling in the emotional detail and giving context to the plot points are a host of interviews with band members, managers, biographers and surprise appearances from artists like Marilyn Manson and Stan Lee.
We learn about the group’s tragedies and triumphs, the bonds of brotherhood between band members, the way they revolutionised rock music in Japan. It’s a story that spans three decades and includes so many chapters and different voices, it could have easily been a mess of details and tangents. But Kijak is able to balance the many characters and events, setting up the X Japan world and inviting the viewer in. You don’t have to be a fan of their style of music to understand who they are.
What seems to be missing from We Are X is a deep dive. The director successfully tells the band’s story, and with big characters, hysterical fans and dramatic events, it’s a compelling story all by itself. We are also offered insights into Yoshiki, a brilliant but haunted artist. But the documentary fails to take things any further. Other than knowing who and what they are, we’re left wondering what we’re meant to take away from this story, or why we need to know about them at all.
Two band members are thought to have committed suicide, and while the impact of their deaths (on the band as well as their fans) is discussed at length, we don’t get any insights into what happened to them. Was the fame or the pressure too much? Were they already fighting demons of their own? It seems significant that two members of the same band were driven to such darkness, and a third was vulnerable to the manipulation of a cult over the span of 1o years, but the documentary does not delve into this area.
Also, there isn’t a real discussion on why they’re doing this. Are they rockstars for the love of music? For the fans? Or even for the fame and money? What drives this band, other than momentum?
We Are X purports to be a documentary about “the world’s biggest and most successful band you’ve never heard of,” and while the film definitely tells a fascinating and moving story in a compelling and artfully packaged way, it remains unclear exactly why this is a band we need to know about. 3/5