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Recommended Viewing: We Are X, The Death and Life of X Japan
Above Image Courtesy of We Are X Film Dot Com. All Other Photos By Gail
When the most popular heavy metal band in Japan came to New York in October of 2014 to play a show at Madison Square Garden, they managed to sell out the legendary arena, despite being virtually unknown in America. X (known stateside as X Japan), got their start in the 1980s as a glam metal band, doing their best to shock audiences with their outrageous stage show and equally over-the-top, gender-bending physical appearances that included flamboyant rock fashions, wildly theatrical hairstyles and Kabuki-esque make-up. But what critics who initially dismissed the band as all style and no substance didn’t realize was that these guys could play their asses off, and were selling the type of rebellious image that repressed Japanese audiences couldn’t wait to buy. Now, an award-winning documentary, We Are X, aims to bring the myth and enigma that is X Japan into your consciousness.
Critics say that the mark of a good documentary is when its story is accessible to, and can be fully enjoyed by, audiences who are completely unfamiliar with its subject matter. Using the career-milestone Madison Square Garden concert as a jumping off point, and circling back to that show (which I attended) at the film’s end, Director Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) has succeeded wildly at crafting a career-spanning Rock & Roll fable that will surely hook those who’ve never even heard of X Japan right from its opening credits.
Told primarily from the viewpoint of founding member Yoshiki; X Japan’s drummer, composer and charismatic leader, We Are X is both the story of the band’s groundbreaking 30-year career, and also the life story of Yoshiki, who turned to music as a child as a means to cope with the suicide of his father. Forming X as a teenager with school friend Toshi, who became the band’s lead singer, Yoshiki was driven to succeed by existential questions that haunted him from his father’s death; namely “What is my purpose?” and “why am I here?”
Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak Discuss the Film at a Post-Screening Q&A Here in NYC
Embracing a ‘Do or Die’ sensibility, X Japan became not just an innovative and successful rock band, but a cultural force as powerfully influential as that created by The Beatles decades before them. Not only have they achieved phenomenal record sales and concert attendances, but band members’ personal brands are associated with products as diverse as credit cards, wine, comic book superhero alter egos, and dolls made in their own likenesses. X Japan is also credited with spearheading the uniquely Japanese Visual Kei movement.
The band’s great successes, however, were tempered with equally great tragedies. As a counterpoint to the celebratory moments, the film carefully explores the suicides of two seminal band members, Hide (in 1998) and Taiji (in 2011), which shattered the lives of both X Japan’s surviving members, and devastated their fans, one of whom was driven to suicide because of the news. We Are X is a true life Rock & Roll story that really has everything.
Yoshiki and Toshi Rocking It Back in the Day!
Despite the intense personal/personnel drama, career challenges and many heart-rending moments, We Are X is also good fun, and thoroughly entertaining. One of my favorite parts happens towards the film’s end, when Yoshiki and Toshi are reunited in 2007, ten years after the singer abandoned X Japan to join a mind-controlling cult. Yoshiki recalls hanging out at the Palladium in Hollywood, where the friends were approached by two guys looking to buy drugs. One of the men asked the duo if they knew where they could score some X (meaning the psychedelic drug, Ecstasy). Yoshiki, whose grasp of the English language is obviously much better now than it was back then, laughs when he recalls replying to the guy, with complete sincerity, “We are X!” Hilarious.
We Are X opens in theaters nationwide on Friday October 21st, 2016.
X Japan On Stage at Madison Square Garden, October 2014
X Japan at Madison Square Garden: Best Concert Ever!
X Japan Billboard, Corner of 34th Street and 7th Avenue (All Photos By Gail)
Here in New York City, it is no secret that you can have a magical adventure if you are just willing to take a leap of faith into the unknown. This is what happened to me when I accepted an invitation to see Japan’s most famous heavy metal band X – known here in America as X Japan, owing to another band in Los Angeles that happens to also have that name. Prior to this past weekend’s concert at Madison Square Garden the only things I knew about X was that their drummer, Yoshiki had been immortalized in a comic book by Stan Lee, and one song, “Jade” – which, prior to Googling the lyrics, I thought was called “You Are Beautiful” due to its only discernible English lyrics.
As You Can See, Their Stage had a Catwalk, Which Every Rock Stage Should Have.
Since I had no previous familiarity with X Japan’s music, this review will be based on my experience as someone who was seeing and hearing the band for the first time. I would say that X Japan is going to appeal to your musical taste if you like any of the following: Big Arena Rock, Heavy Metal, Glam Metal, Dream Theater, Megadeth, Iron Maiden and any 80s Metal Band. It’s probably due to my affinity for that latter, much maligned genre that X Japan resonated with me right away, and I would (probably) still rather listen to the cheesiest ’80s Metal for 100 million billion years than to any charting modern band for 15 minutes. Just being serious.
Please enjoy my pictures and commentary!
First, let’s meet the members of X Japan.
This is Toshi, lead singer and founding member. He and Yoshiki have known each other since they were four years old (45 years ago), and started their first band together when they were eleven.
This is Yoshiki, X Japan’s drummer, pianist, and resident Sex God.
When his hands aren’t busy playing an instrument, Yoshiki touches his hair 60 or 70 times a minute.
Here we have Guitarist Pata, who has been with the band the longest next to Toshi and Yoshiki.
This is Heath, on Bass Guitar.
Sugizo plays the Violin.
A female string quartet added to the atmosphere of their sometimes symphonic metal songs.
Post Continues After The Jump!
Continue reading X Japan at Madison Square Garden: Best Concert Ever!