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

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

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