Imagine you woke from a seventeen-year-old coma, and for some sadistic reason the first place your carers took you was the middle of a Justin Bieber gig, or one of those ‘60s films of young girls fainting in front of the Beatles. Clearly this is a huge musical act with a signature style and a legion of adoring fans numbering in the millions, but all you can do is look on with bemusement at how something so huge could have totally passed you by.
This was my experience watching We Are X, a documentary about a band that, across a thirty-year career, have sold 30 million records, and survived member suicides, cults, and asthma attacks so crippling that they cause fainting mid-song. All this, and yet I’d never heard of them.
You can only keep up with so much. As is clear, I’ve chosen to keep up with obscure documentaries rather than the Japanese metal scene. Luckily for me, however, the two intersected just enough for me to get a glimpse into the fascinating world of X Japan.
The movie is directed Stephen Kijak, maker of the sort of music documentaries that your cooler friend’s parents like to watch on a Friday night in. He is a safe but unremarkable pair of hands, skilled at finding a fascinating story and tsuzjing it up just enough to make what you’re watching feel like a film rather than a TV doc.
This style, however, is perfect for a doc like We Are X. When your subjects spend most of their careers with hair set in gigantic spikes, too many director’s visuals would make the film feel like one of those weird Japanese game shows, and you’d be guaranteed to have a cluster headache within ten minutes.
Instead, Kijak lets the band’s uniquely weird style and amazing stories speak for themselves, with only the roughest of framing narratives keeping it together – the band is due to play their first Madison Square Garden show in seven days, and we watch as they get ready for this gig and reminisce about their past. Which, also, incidentally, is the plot of Spice World the Movie if you’re looking for a double bill.
The film is best in its reminiscences, when you are hearing and seeing the incredible stories of this band, watching drummer Yoshiki literally pass out after drum solos, or seeing members try to withhold their emotions as they talk about the deaths of two band members. I’m not sure how this stuff would play to an actual fan, but this was fascinating to me, feeling like I was uncovering a secret rock n’ roll history.
The film works less well, however, in its modern day stretches of old men getting ready for a gig, mostly because after you’ve seen everything they’ve been through, it’s hard to care about the Yoshiki’s current struggles with a bad bout of what looks like carpal tunnel. Altogether, though, We Are X is a solid film about an extraordinary band.
We Are X will screen in cinemas nationwide 2nd March and On Demand, DVD, Blu-ray in June.
W/ - Samuel Spencer