REVIEW: X JAPAN's Visually Shocking Documentary "We Are X"

"We Are X is the story of the most influential band in the world that you've never heard of…yet." –– (We Are X OHP
We Are X begins with a sea of blue light flooding the screen. YOSHIKI's voice is heard ominously in the background as he hits the drums, asking "Why am I here? Why am I in this world? I almost feel like I was looking for a reason to... die."

Almost immediately, we are taken into the world of X JAPAN, the international icons who have sold over 30 million records worldwide. They are influenced and loved by rock-music sensations such as KISSDavid BowieMarilyn Manson, and Guns'N'Roses, to name a few. These being the most notable amongst the millions of other fans they have amassed over 34 years.

Beautiful HD footage taken from X JAPAN's live concert at Madison Square Garden (MSG) commences before transitioning into the superbly edited opening credits. Photos transition from one cover art of their many highly-acclaimed releases to the next in an extravagant display. Before anything else, much like the band's slogan since the 80's, we are hit with "psychedelic violence, crime of visual shock," which acts as a perfect precursor to how the rest of the film plays out visually. Psychedelic edits for psychedelic violence.

A few moments after we follow YOSHIKI backstage at the end of a performance at MSG, the film cuts to four days prior, when he and the rest of X JAPAN are hard at work promoting the show. We witness fans swarming YOSHIKI immediately as he enters the studio for Sirius XM. "A very famous person," says a random bystander, unbeknownst to them just how big of a star had passed them.

Formed in the 80's by childhood friends YOSHIKI and ToshIX JAPAN sparked a revolution in Japanese music through their melodic metal and flamboyant fashion. The documentary shows clips of the band parading the streets in their full X regalia during the early days, heavily contrasting against what was the societal norm. Their extreme and unique look pioneered the Japanese rock genre "visual kei", which quickly took the world by storm.

Their success was unprecedented. Their impressive resume includes, but is not limited to, 18 sold out nights at the Tokyo Dome (55,000 seats) and more than 30 million albums sold worldwide. Despite being the most popular rock band in Japanese music history, their fame never managed to translate to their Western audiences entirely.

At the climax of their success in 1997, X devastated millions of fans by disbanding. Their leader YOSHIKI was then left to fight his own physical, mental, and spiritual battles to maintain his musical prowess. It was not until 10 years later that X JAPAN would finally reunite and take on their global audience full-force.
"I don't see our band as something that begins and ends. That is irrelevant." – hide (X JAPAN's lead guitar 1987–97, died 1998)
We Are X follows up with a flurry of scenes that switch among three main storylines at once: X JAPAN then, X JAPAN now, and commentary from the band, their colleagues, friends, and fans. All the while, we are able to not only see the band's fame and fortune, but the details of their dark and tragic past as well. A past haunted by suicide, destruction, and brainwashing that has formed an almost unbelievable story making X JAPAN legendary.

With a band that has over 30 years of history to be shared, and continues to go on strong today, it's a wonder how it is compacted into just 2 hours of subtitled film.

"It's a process," said Director Stephen Kijak when asked about this difficulty after the screening. "You have a relationship with an editorial team, you kind of know the bare bones of what the story is. We were thrown into watching them, observing them rehearsing, and having this whole thing build up. It just started – which is kind of great because we weren't pinned in by any preconceived notions. By just observing rehearsals and looking at this whole world [of X JAPAN], it starts to suggest other things to you, other ways the film could be."

Based on the final product of this "process", Kijak has a phenomenal relationship with both the editing team and the graphic designers. We Are X won awards in "Excellence in Title Design" at South by Southwest and "Special Jury Award for Best Editing" at Sundance Festival earlier this year.

What made this the right time to release a documentary after all of X JAPAN's history?

"It just happened organically," YOSHIKI said, "There's never a perfect time for this kind of thing. Everyone kind of came to me and said 'Let's do it.' There's no particular reason." And when he says everyone approached him, he means everyone –– especially his agent.

"My agent, Marc Geiger from WME, used to say several years ago, 'You need to create a documentary,'" YOSHIKI explained during the press conference, "And I was like 'Woah, that's too heavy. I don't want to open that door.'" At that time, YOSHIKI was reluctant to remember, and essentially relive, every single moment. Although X JAPAN had already reunited, the memories were still too painful, so he declined. A year later, Geiger persisted that YOSHIKI tell the story, but YOSHIKI insisted that he simply could not.

"There's footage from our Last Live, which was from when we disbanded before. Then 10 years later, we reunited," he says, "Even watching that Last Live, in the first 5 minutes, I cried. How could I even create a documentary film? Then, eventually, Marc convinced me and I said, 'I cannot even touch this footage.'" It was around this time that YOSHIKI was introduced to Passion Pictures and Stephen Kijak, who would then handle everything in his stead.

We Are X mainly follows YOSHIKI's personal life from childhood, as he is the founder, leader, and face of X JAPAN. Through personal interviews with him, ToshI, and even his mother, private memories are unveiled and a vault of family photos are shared on screen. His vulnerable self is made extremely apparent, which is so different from the fearless drummer his fans are used to seeing, or the positive public figure he works hard to portray.

"Remember I taught you how to speak Japanese?" Stan Lee jokes as he's introduced in the film. He and YOSHIKI had previously worked together on the comic book Blood Red Dragon, but he is not the only American celebrity to express his thoughts on this Japanese band. KISS frontman Gene Simmons, solo artist Marilyn Manson, as well as members of Guns'N'RosesLimp Bizkit, and more share their experiences with X JAPAN and what it means to be an artist or a rockstar today.
"If those guys were born in America or England, and [natively] sang in English, they might be the biggest band in the world." – Gene Simmons (KISS)
Just as Simmons says those words, We Are X dives into the difficulties X JAPAN faced upon first attempting to break through overseas as a major band in 1992. This was a point in time that Yoshiki says was the beginning of X JAPAN's downfall. However, this moment is not made known before covering the significance of X JAPAN and their amazing rise to fame.

We Are X masterfully introduces X JAPAN to the world. Pain is a clear foundation as it touches on the deaths of their guitarist hide and their former bassist Taiji. One by one, the film showcases members from the beginning of X to the current-day X JAPAN. Some reminisced over the past, sharing stories from when the late Taiji and hide were still part of X. Longterm fans will learn something new about X JAPAN as the band's personal conversations are caught on film. One can even relive the 1997 Last Live through X JAPAN's eyes and minds. As if to enhance the overwhelming experience of absorbing the entire history of X JAPAN in one sitting, the band's famous chant "We are X" is expertly cross edited between footage from 1988 in Japan and 2014 in New York.

"X JAPAN was always breaking the wall," YOSHIKI told the Los Angeles Times. "East and west, negative side and positive side, whatever the wall. I don't know how long it will last, but as long as we are alive, we are going to try."

That quote is no exaggeration, either. According to X JAPAN's current guitarist SUGIZO, the band was the "first ever metal band to go mainstream." As a result, an entire line-up of popular visual kei and other bands are shown expressing how X JAPAN has influenced their music. Kaoru (DIR EN GREY), TAKURO (GLAY), MUCC, LUNA SEA,   and Taiwanese band MAYDAY provide comments throughout the cut. In between clips, we can see just how popular X JAPAN is at home.

Plenty of behind the scenes footage is worked into the documentary, giving an even more intimate feel on how the band is doing in the present day. We are able to follow YOSHIKI in and out of doctors' offices and backstage dressing rooms as he goes through his own daily routines. Viewers are even able to catch previews of their long-awaited new album. X JAPAN's own music and visuals are magnificently used to enhance certain emotions as well, and those familiar with their discography are able to pick up subtle notions along the way. The seemingly separate footage is placed perfectly in sync with verbal, musical, and visual cues throughout.

The film makes X JAPAN's preparations for their Madison Square Garden concert feel as if it were all history in the making. Those who attended the screening and did not know much of X JAPAN immediately gravitated towards the themes and messages in their music. Some fans even say that it has healed them.

"We had an outtake of a [female fan] from Puerto Rico with her boyfriend who came to MSG and claimed [X JAPAN's] music put her cancer in remission twice," said Stephen Kijak after the screening, "It was not recorded well, so we couldn't use it, but it was that kind of thing over and over again. You feel it."

"[X JAPAN's music] can be therapeutic. This film can be therapeutic, too," said YOSHIKI, when asked about it later. Despite the film's sad premise, the underlying message that YOSHIKI is aiming to spread is that "nothing is impossible."

Is there an after-credits scene? Let's just say you won't stop watching when they start rolling.

Those in Los Angeles, or able to go to Los Angeles, can now purchase advance tickets for the screenings at the NuArt theater, where the film will open on October 21 for a one-week run. Fans will have a chance to see J-Rock history on the big screen and participate in Q&A sessions with the film's director, plus a rare opportunity to receive an in-person greeting from Yoshiki on opening night. Details of screenings in New York and other U.S. cities will be announced soon!

We Are X @ NuArt Theatre (Los Angeles)
Special Events:
  • Fri, Oct 21, 7:30pm show w/Q&A w/ Filmmaker Stephen Kijak and Yoshiki (Leader of Japanese superstar rock band X Japan)
  • Sat, Oct 22, 7:30pm show w/Q&A w/Filmmaker Stephen Kijak
  • Sun, Oct 23, 5:10pm show w/Q&A w/Filmmaker Stephen Kijak

Check out a trailer for We Are X below!

Special Thanks to RESONANCE Media PR, Yaz Noya, Passion Pictures, and Yoshiki's staff for making this possible!
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