REVIEW: We Are X (2016)

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Japan’s greatest rock band is profiled in this riveting documentary that shows the band’s rise, fall, and rebirth as they prepare for what will be one of their biggest shows in their 30-plus year history.

Since their formation in 1982, X Japan has truly risen to become Japan’s biggest and one of the most pioneering rock bands in the country’s music history. Ready to take on the international market, X Japan prepares for their historic concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. As the band prepares for this historic concert, band leader Yoshiki tells the story of how the band endured many obstacles, including a ten-year hiatus that nearly ended his friendship with vocalist Toshi to the death of guitarist Hide in 1998.

Since their rise as Japan’s greatest rock band and the pioneers of the “Visual Kei” movement, they have gained an international following amongst the music industry. KISS’ Gene Simmons and Marilyn Manson are amongst those who have supported the band. However, in the midst of their fame, Yoshiki, who has been plagued with health issues as well as his inner thoughts after his father’s suicide when he was young, still questions what the meaning of life is. Nevertheless, Yoshiki finds solace not only with the band, and performing on the stage, but with the fans. As the friendship between Toshi and Yoshiki has not only been renewed but has become stronger than ever, the band is ready to take on the international world by storm.

This documentary from director Stephen Kijak brings a sense of importance to this review as he has been a fan of X Japan for twenty-five years. To learn the history of this iconic Japanese rock band from the band’s own perspective truly is what learning about history is all about. While the past few years have shown the band going global with their meshing of metal, rock, and beautiful ballads courtesy of band leader/drummer/pianist Yoshiki; the film does have interviews with music icons who have shown their love and support for the band.

While Yoshiki is the focus and subject of most of the interviews as if he plays the narrator of this tale, vocalist Toshi finally unveils his reasoning for quitting the band in 1997 which led to their disbandment late in the year. One may see Toshi as selfish for what he did upon hearing about it the first time. However, after seeing this film, it is apparent that Toshi is like everyone else: he makes mistakes. In addition to the focus on Toshi and Yoshiki’s longtime friendship, the documentary also takes a look at the mystery revolving around the 1998 death of guitarist Hide, who Yoshiki described as the “mother figure of the band”.

One can also feel for Yoshiki and as to why he endured so much in his life. From his father’s suicide when he was young to a shocking revelation from his mother, who revealed in an audio interview that he was always frail, Yoshiki has had a lifelong quest to discover what life is. He is the type to realize that music is his life and he is meant to do what he does today. He also revealed that after the band’s disbandment, he had considered quitting music until Japan’s Emperor Hirohito literally saved him when he was asked to write a song for him.

Yoshiki is asked why bassist Taiji was fired from the band in 1992 and would not reveal the details, which is understandable in some aspect. It led to a massive falling out between the two, but thankfully, the two made up in July 2010 when Taiji played on stage with the band before his tragic death a year later. When Toshi and Yoshiki visit Taiji’s grave, it brought a sense of closure for Yoshiki as he and the band prepare for one of the biggest shows of their career. There are also small interviews and footage with fans, both in Japan and all over the world, who credit the band’s songs with helping them in their worst moments.

We Are X is a candid and wonderful look at the history of one of Japan’s greatest rock bands, who after many years, are ready to unleash their brand of music on a global wave. X Japan is truly one of the greatest bands in the world and if you don’t know them or heard their songs, it’s time to give them a chance.

WFG RATING: A

Magnet Releasing and Drafthouse Films present a Passion Pictures presentation. Director: Stephen Kijak. Producers: Jonathan McHugh, Jonathan Platt, John Battsek, and Diane Becker. Cinematography: Sean Kirby and John Maringouin. Editing: Mako Kamitsuna and John Maringouin.

Cast: Yoshiki Hayashi, Toshimitsu “Toshi” Deyama, Tomoaki “Pata” Ishizuka, Hiroshi “Heath” Morie, Yuu “Sugizo” Sugihara, Hideto “Hide” Matsumoto, Taiji Sawada, Gene Simmons, Wes Borland, Rochard Fortus, Marilyn Manson, Hideo Canno, Stan Lee.

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