SXSW Film Review: We Are X

Music doc explores the biggest band you never heard of

The cost of rock: Yoshiki, drummer with X Japan and central subject of SXSW music doc We Are X.

If X Japan were American and sang in English, they would be the biggest band in the world. So sayeth Gene Simmons of Kiss in We Are X, a history of the biggest band you never heard of.

This isn't the standard music documentary examination of a no-hope cult act that the world ignored. X are a Japanese institution. Pioneers of the Visual Kei scene of uber-glam metal (imagine Hanoi Rocks plus the Sisters of Mercy multiplied by Sigue Sigue Sputnik), they're a 30-million record-selling rock monster with a career longevity as a stadium act that matches leviathans like AC/DC and, yes, Kiss.

But just as this isn't the normal rock & roll underdog story. Director Stephen Kijak (Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Jaco) isn't creating the standard slavish hagiography. Instead, he focuses on the unlikely artist and key founding member, Yoshiki Hayashi. It's a brilliant creative decision: Yoshiki is an open enigma, a fragile Stephen Tyler, a broken visionary whose career has been plagued by deaths, firings, and even a religious cult trying to destroy his band from within.

The narrative driver is the months of rehearsal and band reconstruction before X's 2014 gig at Madison Square Garden. But it's Yoshiki's agonized trips to the graveyard that has claimed so much of his family and his band that makes this movie soar.

And Yoshiki is the ultimate charismatic enigma, a drumming master who destroys his body every time he takes the stage. Kijak shows the pain, both physical and emotional, that decades of rock have taken on the man. But there's no sense of self-pity, or ostentatious self-glorification. Instead, Yoshiki is open and honest, a sad-eyed innocent who has been broken time and again on the rocks of his tumultuous industry. Yet he turns up time and time again to entertain the fans he loves, and who clearly adore him back.


We Are X

24 Beats Per Second

Got opinions about food, arts, shopping, and everything else good in Austin? Let your voice be heard in our annual Best of Austin ballot. Voting is open now!

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Linklater's Latest, Reality TV Taps Locals, and More Austin Film News
Linklater's Latest, Reality TV Taps Locals, and More Austin Film News

Richard Whittaker, July 26, 2019

First Look: <i>Frances Ferguson</i>
First Look: Frances Ferguson
Take a look at the newest sly drama from Bob Byington

Richard Whittaker, June 19, 2019

More by Richard Whittaker
It's <i>Knives Out</i> For Rian Johnson at Fantastic Fest
It's Knives Out For Rian Johnson at Fantastic Fest
The Last Jedi director's latest to close fest

Aug. 20, 2019

Other Worlds Celebrates 40th Anniversary of <i>Time After Time</i>
Other Worlds Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Time After Time
Fest to honor Nicholas Meyer, director of the beloved chrono-romance

Aug. 15, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW 2016, SXSW Film 2016, SXSW, Documentary, We Are X, X Japan, Visual Kei, Yoshiki

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Time to vote! Best of Austin 2019 balloting is underway   VOTE NOW