Award-winning documentary "We Are X" comes to Thailand
THE MOST successful rock band ever to come out of Japan and the pioneers of the “visual kei” movement, X Japan has gone through both highs and extreme lows in its 30-plus-year career. Many of those triumphs and tragedies are revealed on the big screen today as “We Are X”, Stephen Kijak’ s no-holds-barred documentary, opens at SF cinemas across Thailand.
The 2016 film has been warmly welcomed by the critics, picking up won the Special Jury Award for Best Editing in Sundance’s World Cinema Document- ary Competition last year and the Audience Award for Excellence in Title Design at South by Southwest.
Directed by Kijak, the documentarian behind “Stones in Exile” and “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”, and produced by the Oscar-winning production team behind “Searching for Sugar Man”, “We Are X” tracks the success of the band, which has sold over 30 million albums, singles and videos combined; sold out Japan’ s 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome a record 18 times; and played to tens of thousands of fans outside of Japan.
Focusing on Yoshiki – composer, classically trained pianist, drummer, percussionist and co-founder – it covers the band’ s early days through its performance at Madison Square Garden on October 11, 2014.
Tragedy has haunted the musician for much of the past four decades. Yoshiki’ s father committed suicide when he was still a child, his childhood friend and X Japan co-founder, vocalist Toshi was “brainwashed” by a cult leading to the group’ s break-up in 1997, guitarist Hide died five months later, and former bassist Taiji died 11 months after performing with the group for the first time in 18 years.
The film’ s name comes from the call and response performed by X Japan with the audience during live performances of their self-titled song “X”, when Toshi yells “We are...” and the audience responds with “X” before the musicians start the last leg of the song.
Yoshiki and Toshi formed the band in 1982 while they were still teenagers and called themselves X. Over the next 13 years, they released five studio albums – “Vanishing Vision” in 1988, “Blue Blood” in 1989, “Jealousy” in 1991, “Art
of Life” in 1993 and “Dahlia” in 1996, as well as six live albums, ten best hits albums and 20 DVD releases. X Japan was the first Japanese band to achieve mainstream success while signed to an independent label. The band was so popular they became a cultural phenomenon.
In the autumn of 1997, at the height of their success, the band broke up. Four months later, Hide, X Japan’s original lead guitarist, was found dead in his Tokyo apartment. More than 50,000 fans turned out for his funeral. In early 2007 Yoshiki and Toshi resumed communication and later that year X Japan officially reformed. The band launched its reunion in 2008 with three nights at the Tokyo Dome. Two years later, X Japan performed in front of a mainstream American crowd for the first time at Lollapalooza and the biggest concert in its history, selling out two consecutive shows at Japan’ s Nissan Stadium, filling 140,000 seats.
In 2011, X Japan kicked off a European Tour at London’s Shepherd’s Bush (selling-out the venue in 30 minutes) and later expanded the tour to include South America. In 2012, X Japan was the first Japanese band to take home the prize for “Best International Band” at the Golden Gods Awards held in the US. In 2014, X Japan headlined a colossal show at New York’ s famed Madison Square Garden in the US.
Director Kijak recently spoke about the film and how he came to make it.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED |WITH THE FILM?
“I really wanted to do another film with producer John Battsek and Passion Pictures – they’ re the best. John brought the project to me. I had never heard of X Japan. One look at old pictures of X from their heyday and I was in. There was a visual aura about them that was instantly captivating. I wanted to know more.”
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TELL THIS STORY?
“The visual aspect was one hook – but then you discover this impossibly dramatic narrative, including deaths, a cult – you cannot make this stuff up. And then you meet Yoshiki and fall under this spell of almost supernatural determination and creativity … it was unlike any rock band narrative I had ever encountered. I knew we could do something extraordinary.”
X JAPAN HOLDS A SIGNIFICANT PLACE IN JAPANESE CULTURE AND IN THE HEARTS OF THEIR DEVOTED FANS. WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT HONOURING THE TRUTH OF THEIR STORY AND ALSO CREATING SOMETHING THAT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO THEIR FANS?
“That’ s sort of the challenge with any documentary about a famous band – there’ s a devoted fanbase and then there are the folks who have never heard of them – if you can make a film that appeals equally to both camps, you’ve done your job. The approach is to focus on story and character – if those are deep and compelling, everyone is going to get pulled in.”
X JAPAN HAS A LONG HISTORY WITH MANY STORYLINES AND PEOPLE THROUGH |THE YEARS. HOW DID YOU DECIDE |THE BEST WAY TO TELL THEIR STORY?
“The intro came to me in a dream. The rest of the film is anchored by several long interviews I did with Yoshiki. He’ s the leader of the band, he composes all the songs, he is the one who brought X back from the dead to record and tour again so as much as the film is the history of the band, it becomes apparent that it is also very much Yoshiki’ s story. Also, we had very little pre-production, so it was one of those cases of discovering the film as you go. We had a vague notion of what we wanted, but you discover things along the way, and it took a while to get to know Yoshiki. It was a gradual unfolding, a constant excavation in the field and in the edit.”
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE |CHALLENGES IN MAKING THE FILM?
“I’ d say the main challenges were editorial. There’ s so much story. Also – and you find this with almost all rock stars – there are accepted and repeated narrative beats that have defined them and their careers for years. You have to try and break those down and get under the surface to an emotional level to try and see the story from a different perspective. Also, cultural differences and perceptions could be a barrier for non-fans to truly get into the film and identify with Yoshiki. The main challenge there is to create empathy, where he is both the rock god that he is but also a relatable and vulnerable human being.”