Over the years the heavy metal genre has had many documentaries made covering the lives and careers of some of the biggest bands in the world. Just take the phenomenally successful film made surrounding the little known, but pioneering Anvil, or on the flip side of the coin the much maligned Some Kind of Monster. The rock documentary can go either way, making the band seem charming and friendly, or obnoxious and out of touch with the real world. Luckily for X Japan, We Are X portrays the members of the band in a fair and even handed way, and they come off pretty well. Although given how incredible their story is, that should not be a surprise.
We Are X follows X Japan as they prepare to play a gig at Madison Square Garden, their biggest show outside of Japan ever, looking back on the history of the band and the trials and tribulations of their various members. The film is essentially told from the point of view of drummer and creative driving force Yoshiki. His father committed suicide when he was very young, a theme which is revisited throughout the film as the band go through various tragedies, including the death of certain band members, their lead singer being recruited by a cult, and the departure of their original bassist, Taiji under circumstances which Yoshiki is still unwilling to reveal. This is the turbulent story of one of the most successful bands in the history of Japanese popular music, and their eventual reconciliation after a bitter break up in 1997.
This is a hell of a story. We've all heard to rags-to-riches tale of a pair of young men who became friends growing up and went on to be in a hugely successful band. It's a tale as old as popular music itself. However, this particularly story is filled with so much tragedy and turmoil that it becomes difficult to place it within the confines of that old narrative. Yoshiki is an excellent narrator throughout providing insight and memories from his own life, especially how the struggle to accept his father's suicide affected him growing up. and even now. You can see throughout there is a deep bond between Yoshiki and Toshi, but there also seems to be an underlying void between the two at the same time which makes for a fascinating dynamic. Toshi's story is equally turbulent, having been "brainwashed" and through physical violence and mental torture convinced that the band he was in was evil and was corrupting the mind s of the children of Japan. It is an unbelievable situation, but the stark changes in Toshi are documented with archive footage that shows a dramatic change in him. even in the present day there is a certain vacant look at points which suggests he is not completely recovered. It really si captivating stuff. On top of that you have the rivalry between Yoshiki and Taiji which leads to his leaving the band under something of a cloud, and then being replaced by Heath. Even Hide who is talked about in terms of endearment by anyone has his own downward spiral later on. From start to finish this is hugely engrossing stuff.
My knowledge of X Japan was very limited going into this film, but I have to say that it made no difference. Yoshiki is such an intriguing and interesting man, and his narration combined with the sheer volume of archive footage gives you a very strong grounding in how enormously successful and beloved the band are in their homeland. From news reports, to footage of the Japanese police having to hold back a mob of screaming fans, to the footage from their record sell outs at the Tokyo Dome, a baseball stadium which routinely hosted the likes of Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Guns 'N' Roses, and countless other superstars during this time period. even their break up was covered in depth with footage from press conferences, photoshoots, their final gig, and much more. The level of research and detail really puts the audience in the moment and on the ride with the band, especially when you juxtapose it with the footage of the band in present day visiting the graves of fallen friends, as well as preparing for the biggest gig they've ever attempted on foreign soil.
We Are X is easily one of the best music documentaries I've seen in a number of years, but I don't want to pigeonhole it into being specifically one about music, because much of what makes it so intriguing is the personal journey of the members of the band, as well as their importance in challenging the traditions of a very conservative culture with an outlandish look and style of music which inspired a following across their native country. The whole experience as an audience is one which delves into a very important sub-culture and how one group managed to transcend that sub-culture and become part of an important cultural movement. They are X Japan, and this is a film that demands your attention.