Does playing Madison Square Garden mark the pinnacle of any rock bands live career? Is it at the moment you take to a stage graced by Elvis, Led Zeppelin, The Stones and other greats, that you can say you’ve truly ‘made it’ on a global scale? The hallowed New York arena forms the epicentre of documentary filmmaker Stephen Kijak’s We Are X, a profile of super-group X Japan whose late 1980s blend of big hair, attitude and classically-infused heavy metal suffered from limited success overseas but was worshipped by hoards of adoring, delirious fans in their home nation.
In a similar vein to Malik Bendjelloul’s stellar Searching for Sugar Man, We Are X is likely to reveal the greatest Japanese band you’ve never heard of. But for a group that has suffered such remarkable peaks and troughs over a disjointed union spanning forty years it is a disappointment that the end result is a film of such monotone blandness. A documentary that poses more questions that it answers can intrigue and beguile but there are vast areas in We Are X left crying out for further exploration. Rooted as it is in decades of complicated band dynamics, an awful lot of love, pain and loss has evidently passed under the bridge.
Yoshiki, the group’s driving, creative force and musical genius, tells of the suicide of a number of their midst, the brainwashing of lead singer Toshi, the unexplained firing of one member which even now remains veiled in secrecy. He speaks with bitter tenderness of how his musical father also took his own life when he was still a boy and what a long-lasting effect it has had on him. Why is the question of why not asked by the film when this issue has devastated so many linked to its principal subject? Is suicide rife in young men in Japan? Further, which cult hid Toshi away from the world and his fellow band members for ten years? The fragmented personal and musical trajectories and tangents told by We Are X are undoubtedly interesting but it ultimately fails to deliver on the hype it assumes all who come to it will have for this group.
Returning periodically to a countdown for the big Madison Square Garden gig there is very little sense of anticipation, excitement or exhilaration as bored assistants and roadies look on with a mixture of tedium and annoyance that sadly begins to resemble our own. though they may now be getting on in years – Yoshiki is held together by tape (literally) and injections in failing, drummed-out joints – X Japan’s dedication to music remains admirable but Kijak’s film places them on a similar pedestal to that of their swooning fans when it is a closet stashed full of skeletons that would have provided the braver and far more worthwhile material to inspect.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens