VIFF 2016 | We Are X

Posted by Christine Kim & filed under VIFF.

Credit: viff.org
Credit: viff.org

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We Are X
Dir: Stephen Kijak | M/A/D | Documentaries | U.K./USA/Japan | 2015 | 93 mins
Showtimes:
Oct. 1, 3:45 pm | Vancouver Playhouse
Oct. 5, 6:30 pm | Rio Theatre
Oct. 9 4:15 pm | International Village 10

We Are X is a documentary film directed by Stephen Kijak about the rock band X Japan. Calling X Japan a rock band feels like a complete understatement to me having watched the entirety off this film. Let me explain why.

The film starts off with a voice over by leader of X Japan, Yoshiki. He is speaking to us, the viewers, as breath-taking shots of the X Japan’s performance at Madison Square Garden in New York rolls. Cut to a couple weeks before this monumental performance and we see Yoshiki doing interviews in promotion of the big concert.

Through a series of different personalities and interview montages, a better sense of what makes X Japan so special begins to formulate.

X Japan is an international sensation; one that started off by completely revolutionizing the music industry nationally and then spread to radically influence the rock and roll genre internationally. As Yuichi Masuda, music critic, puts it, “They set an example for everything. Not only did they change the music scene, but they changed the whole culture… There’s ‘Before X’ and ‘After X’.”

However, this insane success comes at a pretty high cost as the documentary slowly starts to unravel some of the major hurdles this group of Japanese rock and roll artists had to get through.

Yoshiki, the band leader, is pale and has a very thin frame. Having to undergo regular medical check-ups, Yoshiki suffers from a number of conditions such as asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic muscle pain, and so much more. Yet, you cannot recognize any of the normal symptoms these conditions would cause when Yoshiki plays the drums. He bangs on the instruments with such force, precision, and speed, you forget any of the physical pain he must be feeling. It is after certain sets when he is gasping for air and near total collapse from the exertion that you realize just how much energy Yoshiki pours into his stage performances.

X Japan has been around since as early as 1982 and has been sky-rocketing in popularity ever since. However, after 1997, the band actually disbanded for a period of 10 full years. What was the cause of this disband? The answer is not a simple one and stems from disputes between Yoshiki and Toshi, who is the lead vocalist of X Japan. While the elaboration of what exactly caused a decade long hiatus is skillfully brought to light over the course of the documentary, I want to highlight the impact of what happened after the disbandment.

On December 31, 1997, X Japan did their last live concert before Toshi walked away from the group. A few months later, Hide, the guitarist, unexpectedly died in Tokyo. The break-up of X Japan, as well as, Hide’s death left fans in a wild disarray. Moreover as Yoshiki explains, “I was leader of the band. I had to blame myself.”

Being no stranger to pain, death, and a fair share of emotional hurt, the lyrical composition of X Japan’s music speaks to an audience bounded together by shared experiences of grief. Time and time again, fans recount how it was exactly X Japan’s songs that brought them through hard times of dealing with the death of a close relative.

It is the power of X Japan’s voice to speak to an audience of not just Japanese people, but all people, that astounded me the most in this documentary film. The beauty of being able to create human connection on such a raw, real, and mass-scale level is what I saw reflected in the depiction of who and what X Japan is all about.

“Those who carry their scars, they lean on our music to move through life with us. That’s our sound.”

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