You have to respect a documentary that
comes with an audience warning. In the case of a new profile of the Japanese
glam rock-heavy metal band X Japan, it is strobe effects. However, the band has
collectively experienced far graver threats to their lives and well-being.
Stephen Kijak profiles the immensely popular but deeply scarred group in We Are X (trailer
here), which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
X’s androgynously Byronic frontman and
drummer Yoshiki was always the member most at risk. When he was a sickly child,
doctors gave him a minimal chance of living into adulthood, yet here he is. In
this case, “here” means in considerable pain. Yoshiki never had a robust
constitution, so his take-no-prisoners performance style often left him in a
state of complete collapse. After years of stadium-style drumming turned up to
eleven, he now must wear a neck brace throughout all X Japan concerts. Still,
he is walking and breathing.
The same cannot be said of lead guitarist
Hide, who died from an apparent suicide. Viewers might not be familiar with X
Japan, but they have probably heard of the rash of copycat fan suicides that
followed his death. This is that band. However, their most dramatic near
tragedy had an especially Japanese flavor. Unbeknownst to the rest of X Japan,
their vocalist Toshi fell under the sway of a mind-controlling cult. It was no
joke. Hearing him relate his experiences is both creepy and cautionary.
Obviously, Yoshiki has a vested interest
in maintaining his sensitive head-banger image, but Kijak gets him to open up
somewhat, especially when discussing Hide’s sad demise. Kijak is a veteran
music documentarian (the co-director of the first-rate Jaco) who draws on his experience to corral the deliberately
out-there band. This time around, he incorporates some revealingly grueling
concert footage (complete with strobe lights) and fully conveys a sense of the
band as a social phenomenon in Japan.
are enough tribulations and chaos in We
Are X to fill a dozen music documentaries, but Kijak keeps it snappy while avoiding
a gossipy tone. Recommended for fans and gawkers, We Are X screens again this Tuesday (1/26), Thursday (1/28), and
Friday (1/29) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, Sundance '16, X Japan