Thursday, 13 October 2016

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: WE ARE X review

Part of the London Film Festival's Sonic strand, We Are X charts the 30 year career of X Japan, a glam metal band from Japan in the run up to their performance at New York's Madison Square Gardens.

It's hard to see a music bio-doc these days without what I call "getting a touch of the Anvils". The life of a musician is a ridiculous collection of screaming fans, cliches and rock star behaviour, and although there's clear comparison points with Anvil, X Japan are a rock band who actually made it, but with a surprisingly small following in the western world.

Director Stephen Kijak's previous films include the Scott Walker documentary 30 Century Man and the Backstreet Boys doc, Show 'Em What You're Made Of, and here he wisely chooses to focus his lens on Yoshiki in favour of the other band members. He is the heart and soul of the band of almost indeterminate age (he could pass for someone younger than the band he created), who has dominated Japanese music, fashion and art, starred in his own comic book by Stan Lee and is shown to be kept together by doctors who allow him to keep touring and performing. I'm sure there's a certain amount of showmanship involved, but Yoshiki wears a neckbrace when he drums to combat the damage from the excessive head-banging of his youth, which might be the most rock and roll injury there is.

The running joke in This is Spinal Tap is that the drummer's chair is a continuously revolving door due to its occupants choking on their own vomit/spontaneous combustion, but the opposite is true here. Yoshiki is the band's creator and chief songwriter who has remained the one constant, but there has been an immense amount of tragedy within the other roles in the band, including multiple suicides and unsolved deaths. These subjects are handled sensitively and are a tad under investigated, but in order to focus on the band as a touring entity, that's understandable. There is also a certain amount of unexpected comedy to their larger than life career, and lead singer Toshi's brainwashing by a religious cult is approached as a shining example of the pressures of being in the band.

There are a number of talking heads from famous western rock stars, including Gene Simmons who puts forward the idea that if X were comprised of white, English speaking men, they would be the biggest rock band in the world. He may have a point. Although I was not familiar with the band at all before the screening, during the post-film Q&A with director Stephen Kijak and band drummer/songwriter Yoshiki it was abundantly clear that X Japan fans are amongst the most fevered and loyal in the world, and that Yoshiki was probably the most famous person I had ever been in the presence of, despite not knowing who he was two hours earlier.

The band, like their epic 30 minute rock ballad Art of Life, have many different facets to their success, and this documentary (made with the full co-operation of the band) goes a long way to respectfully cover as many aspects as possible. When watching We Are X it's hard not to fall in love with this band, and even if you are unfamiliar with them going in, the performance footage with thousands of cheering fans chanting their battle cry "We Are X!" will soon change that.

Made with real affection for the band and its fans, We Are X is a crowd-pleasing documentary that proves that X go all the way to XI.




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