×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘We Are X’

This glossy, superficial doc profiles the three-decade-plus existence of Japan's premier metal band.

With:
Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata, Heath, Sugizo, Taiji, Hide. (English, Japanese dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4835086/

Nearly as long-running as the U.S. punk-rock band from which their geographic designation distinguishes them, X Japan have been a huge success on their home turf for nearly three decades. But they’ve never really conquered America, something “We Are X” treats as a mystery, but which is pretty easy to explain: Their brand of highly theatrical glam metal was considered passe by the time they first attempted to conquer these shores in the early 1990s. Stephen Kijak’s documentary duly captures the many pyrotechnical, elaborately groomed moods of their “visual rock,” but this glossy history feels like another highly packaged stab at world domination. No doubt a major event for fans, this very authorized, unrevealing look is unlikely to win any new converts not already inclined toward instrumental-solo-heavy prog metal, lachrymose power ballads and ’80s-style hair bands.

Childhood schoolmates Yoshiki (drummer/keyboardist/principal composer) and Toshi (lead singer) were still in their teens when they formed X in 1982. Six years later their first album was released, reflecting an early emphasis on punk-influenced speed metal that soon expanded to encompass dollops of strings, piano and other sweeteners — no doubt a big factor in their success in a market that previously had limited use for heavy music. So did their doll-like personal presentation, with sky-high coifs and no mascara spared. But despite soon reaching enormous popularity, there were problems: A permanent rift with bassist Taiji, and a long-term one with Toshi, whose 1997 departure under the influence of a cult (not named or otherwise detailed here), suspended X Japan’s existence for a decade.

These and other crises are treated with solemn import, but little real insight — the band members (often shot in heroic, full-on-rock-star postures) aren’t about to dim their carefully constructed mystique by offering much in the way of down-to-earth personal disclosures. This comes off as more than a bit evasive, since two past members committed apparently suicide — surely something a documentary ought to address more penetratingly than the subjects allow here. Other omissions are just silly, as when the pic shows two young blonde women who seem to constantly be in Yoshiki’s orbit, yet shrinks from telling us what their professional or private roles (even their names) are.

The film is structured around the days leading up to the current edition of X Japan playing Madison Square Garden — a climactic triumph that seems as thoroughly stage-managed as anything else here. (It’s worth noting, as the film’s publicity materials do, that the docu’s own American director, a rock-doc specialist, had no idea who the band was before being hired to the project.) One can admire their showmanship (also glimpsed in plentiful archival PA, concert and music-video clips) without embracing the humorless, sometimes near-messianic grandiosity of their image, which “We Are X” dutifully reproduces in pseudo-verite form. Packaging is sleek, pacey and colorful.

Film Review: 'We Are X'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 23, 2016. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.K.-U.S.-Japan) A Passion Pictures production in association with PrettyBird Pictures. Produced by John Battsek, Diane Becker, Jonathan McHugh, Jonathan Platt. Executive producers, George Chignell, Nicole Stott, Patrick Nugent. Co-executive producers, Kerstin Emhoff, Andrew Ruhemann.

Crew: Directed by Stephen Kijak. Camera (color, HD), Sean Kirby, John Maringouin; editors, Mako Kamitsuna, Maringouin; music, Yoshiki; sound, Theresa Radka, Adrienne Wade, Avi Zev Weider, Adam Drakewolf, Marc Hoppe, Dustin Pero, Alex Ramirez, Robert Bourke; re-recording mixer, Mark Rozett; supervising sound editor, Trip Brock.

With: Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata, Heath, Sugizo, Taiji, Hide. (English, Japanese dialogue)

More Film

  • Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy

    The Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy History (Watch)

    No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot. With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Arrested, in Custody of Chicago Police

    Jussie Smollett has been arrested and faces criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report and for disorderly conduct. Chicago police tweeted Thursday morning that the “Empire” actor was under arrest and in custody of detectives. Smollett claimed that he had been attacked by two men on Jan. 29 — he said they beat [...]

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • Ghost Fleet review

    Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet'

    The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content