We Are X: More Fun in the New World, by Matt Warren
Have you ever heard of the Chiba-based prog band X Japan? Me neither, but there are thousands of people out there who apparently have, as the copious footage of Beatlemania-esque levels of pandemonium featured in in director Stephen Kijak’s biographical rock doc We Are X makes abundantly clear.
We Are X is little more than a supersized Behind the Music episode, but as a slick primer on one of the world’s biggest bands (who knew?), Kijak’s film functions adequately and effectively.
Formed by drummer/keyboardist/auteur “Yoshiki” and lead vocalist “Toshi” in the early 1980s, X (later rechristened “X Japan” to avoid confusion with the LA-based punk band) is according to Wikipedia “widely credited as one of the pioneers of visual kei”—essentially, the Japanese equivalent of glam.
Like I said, I’d literally never heard of this band before, so all this was news to me. And frankly, I could have used a lot more performance footage and musical clips to help contextualize what makes this particular band so special. As such, we only see X in action fleetingly, playing a wide range of rock styles ranging from Metallica thrash to Dream Theater prog to baroque, “Bat Out of Hell” piano pop.
Naturally, we get the standard procession of talking-head testimonials waxing on appreciatively about the band’s legacy influences, including interviews with Wes Borland, Richard Fortus, and Gene Simmons, among others.
I can’t stress how weird it is that I’ve never heard of this band before. I’m a hard rock/heavy metal fan, and I feel like I do a pretty good job of keeping up with the international scene. But here I sit in my round-eyed Western ignorance, totally befuddled by this enormous blind spot.
The documentary itself follows the typical VH1-approved “rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-redemption” arc full of feuding band members, drugs, suicide, and friendship lost and found. But there’s a reason why this narrative is so satisfying, and We Are X wisely doesn’t go out of its way to break with convention.
There’s nothing unique about the movie, but for fans of X Japan or rock ‘n roll in general, We Are X is totally worth banging your head to.