Going into We Are X, I knew precisely two things about X Japan. Firstly, I knew they were a band, and secondly I knew that their drummer/pianist/composer/leader had just gone in for surgery. Coming out the other end of this documentary an hour and a half later, I may have been looking up concert dates...
The documentary uses a very loose framework around the few days before the band launches a huge concert in New Yorkm but for the most part it's spun off into a series of interviews, archive footage and musical montages detailing the band's history. Its fascinating to watch too - this is the J-rock band that knows Stan Lee. The band the Gene Simmons feels could have been the biggest band in the world if western audiences ould get over their tendency to ingnore music thats not in English. The band whose leader has both penned a theme song for Hello Kitty and written and performed a symphony for the Emporer of Japan. In other words, they havn't exactly been sitting on their heels for the last 34 years!
Its band leader Yoshiki who we spend the most time with here, a famously energetic and wild drummer who plays so hard that he's been known to pass out from exhaustion after a set and has to wear a neck brace whilst playing. Between his parents being told he wouldn't live long following his birth, several suicides taking people close to him and the ten year break-up of the band he's not had things easy. But past the wild hair, the flash car he drives in the States and the manic drumming he comes off as a person of great strength and character, and it's impossible not to like him as he takes himself through some very emotional memories during the film.
The other band members get considerably less time spent on them but they're a varied and interesting bunch from singer and ex-cult member Toshi to the various guitarists and bassists who've worked with the band. Visiting these characters is a large part of what drives the telling of the band's history, from their early days in Japan with a full-on visual Kei look complete with some of the wildest hair you can imagine (one of the band members confesses he would have quit music to be a hairdresser if it weren't for being invited to join X Japan) and bonkers make-up, the group brings to mind all the wildest memories of great rock bands from Kiss to The Who. Theres another big band they have somthing in comon with too - seeing the hordes of fans who are drawn to the band, seeing them forlornly sobbing and screaming... well, it's more than a little reminiscent of Beatlemania.
The documentary is really well put together, flitting from topic to topic and interviewee to interviewee without ever feeling overwheming or rushed, all the while linked by excerpts from the group's colossal back catalogue. In fact, the only real flaw is one that I feel somewhat betrays the film's American origins - most of the band, and Yoshiki in particular, spend most of the film talking in near-fluent, easily understandable English, but for some reason they've still been subtitled.
It's always going to be a hard sell to get a film like this into the hands of those who aren't already a fan of the band. If you do however, it's a fascinating insight into one of the biggest bands in the world from a country that has a reputation for producing a lot of very short-lived, disposable groups. I can't say I'm 100% sold on the music, but the story behind it and the passion and showmanship it's presented with? It's fantastic!