Thursday 2 March 2017

WE ARE X review

Filmed in the run up to their concert at New York's Madison Square Gardens, We Are X charts the 30 year career of X Japan, quite possibly the most famous rock band you've never heard of.

The following is an updated version of the review published after We Are X's premiere at the 2016 London Film Festival.

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 band founder member Yoshiki in favour of the others. He is the heart and soul of the band of androgynous appearance and almost indeterminate age (he could pass for someone younger than the band he created), who has dominated Japanese music, fashion and art for decades, starred in his own comic book by Stan Lee and is kept together by doctors whose various medications and therapies 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 an example of the pressures of being in the band.

Like their epic 30 minute rock ballad Art of Life there are many different facets to X's 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. It's hard not to fall in love with them and appreciate the longevity of their appeal, and even if you aren't a fan of their music beforehand, the performance footage with thousands of cheering fans chanting their battle cry "We Are X!" may soon change that.

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. 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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