It must be said before I review this documentary that I know little to nothing about rock ‘n roll. But what compelled me to watch this documentary was that I am a fan of Japanese culture; everything from food to film to settings so their musical culture should be a must see for me. The only rock band in Japan that I know of is Guitar Wolf, a band so popular that they starred in their own movie as themselves fighting zombies, called Wild Zero. But now we have a documentary, We Are X, that provides a glimpse of the near-global phenomenon of ultra-popular rock band, X-Japan. While undeniably entertaining and informative enough for its goals, I wished that it had more depth into their past as well as some other factors that felt glossed upon.
The documentary is framed around the days leading up to the Madison Square Garden as it follows the life of Yoshiki from his early tragic childhood, due to his father’s suicide all the way to the formation of the band to become one of the most popular rock bands in Japan. It then goes into the many downfalls and some of them are so operatic, that it may be hard to believe. Like how one of the band members disbanded to join a cult or how two other members (Taijiand Hide) apparently committed suicide. It is just unfortunate that director Stephen Kijak does not go into these topics with more depth, that it just feels more cursory than anything else.
There is respect paid to its subjects, but in the case of the subject matter itself, there may be a little bit too much. The band is filmed and shot with many poses and they really exude a presence of mystique but it does not afford much of a glimpse of their off-stage personalities. And it does come off more than just coincidental that when the film premiered in Sundance 2016, their new album had also released around the same time, making the documentary seem more like a tie-in.
But thankfully, Yoshiki is a fascinating person to witness. There are many amusing asides about Yoshiki, like how he has to wear a neck brace due to 30 years of headbanging, but his delicate manga-like look and the fancifully contrasting costumes make him a captivating and enigmatic person to watch. As for the concert footage itself, it is a hell of a lot of fun to watch from a technical standpoint and it is impressive to see that band can still shout as much as they can today.
We Are X does well in showing how X-Japan became famous but like Yoshiki himself, is too mysterious and enigmatic that it keeps the viewer from arm’s length, wanting to know more.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
We Are X screened at SXSW 2016. To find our more about the film, and to see if there are any more SXSW screenings, head here.
Article originally appeared on our sister site The Iris. Review by Harris Dang.