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Recommended Viewing: We Are X, The Death and Life of X Japan

We Are X Movie Poster
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.

X Japan Concert Ad

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.

Yoshiki at MSG
Yoshiki on Stage at MSG

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
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.

X at MSG
X Japan on Stage at MSG

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
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.

Grade: A+

X at MSG
X Japan On Stage at Madison Square Garden, October 2014

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X Japan at Madison Square Garden: Best Concert Ever!

X Japan Billboard
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.

X Japan Stage Logo
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.

Toshi Lead Vocals

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.

Yoshiki on the Kit

This is Yoshiki, X Japan’s drummer, pianist, and resident Sex God.

Yoshiki Hair

When his hands aren’t busy playing an instrument, Yoshiki touches his hair 60 or 70 times a minute.

Pata Guitarist

Here we have Guitarist Pata, who has been with the band the longest next to Toshi and Yoshiki.

Heath Bassist

This is Heath, on Bass Guitar.

Sugizo Violin

Sugizo plays the Violin.

X Band on Stage

A female string quartet added to the atmosphere of their sometimes symphonic metal songs.

Besides the band sounding and playing great, there was a ton of visuals to keep your eyes entertained and your brain engaged, such as:

Skulls Stage Shot

Crazy Visual Projections!

Fire Background Stage Shot

X Red Fire wirh Prop

Giant Stage Props! In the above photo you can see the two halves of the letter “X” coming together from across the stage.

X Prop Stage shot

Here it is again!

X Japan Stage Prop Pink Fire

P1050663

Laser Lights and Fire Bombs!

Confetti Bazooka

Confetti Bazookas!

X Japan Wrist Band

When we first entered the arena, ushers gave everyone this wrist band thing. We wondered what it could be for, but a couple of fans told us it was probably something that was going to factor into the show, and that we should be sure to wear it. That was excellent advice because look what happened with those wrist bands about an hour into the nearly-three-hour show:

Lit Up Wrist Bands

Lit Up Wrist Bands

It was amazing!

Yoshiki on Drums

At one point during the show, Yoshiki’s drum riser actually moved down the Cat Walk and then rose up into the air over the crowd!

Yoshiki Rising Drum Riser

It was just insane!

Yoshiki at Piano

Yoshiki steps away from his massive kit to play piano many, many times during X Japan’s set. He even played a bit of Swan Lake! Here, he prays for everyone to have fun at the show. Prayers answered!

X Japan have been together off and on for 30 years. Here are some photos of what they looked like back in the day:

X Japan Old School

X Japan Old School

Two former members (not necessarily pictured above) have passed on. RIP!

Lyrics to Hero

They did a new song called “Hero” with the lyrics projected on the screen so fans could sing along.

Lyrics to Hero

“Hero” managed to be both uplifting and sad simultaneously.

X Band on Stage with Banner

Finally, it was time to say goodbye, as the members of X Japan gathered at the edge of the Catwalk and pulled this banner from the a fan in the audience. Yoshiki proceeded to wrap himself in it. Cute!

X Band on Stage Farewell

Goodbye X Japan and thanks for the crazy fun show!

THE SET LIST

MIRACLE   (INTRO)

JADE

RUSTY  NAIL

SILENT  JEALOUSY

BENEATH  THE SKIN

PATA   +   HEATH  SOLO

DRAIN

SUGIZO  VIOLIN  SOLO

KURENAI

HERO

BORN TO  BE FREE
·∙

ENCORE 1

PIANO  SOLO

DRUM  SOLO

FOREVER  LOVE

I.V.

X
·∙

ENCORE  2

ENDLESS RAIN

ART OF LIFE  (PIANO)