To be honest, I thought X was a hardcore band and this was going to be another talking head doc about how they picked up their community and their lives by the bootstraps and soldiered on. It’s not.
Music documentaries remind me a little bit of badly made biographical films: they all have the same narrative. A band, any band really, starts small, gets huge, struggles with (insert: drugs, suicide, inter-band battles, etc.), but after years of non-band solitude, they come together for a emotional reunion show at (insert: Madison Square Gardens, their hometown bar, etc.). Yes, they have their own characters and their own special bumps along the road, but c’mon, band docs in the last five years have shored up on the beach of unoriginality. And, to be frank, while We Are X is well-made film, it never throws the shackles of its niche genre aside. We Are X documents the story of Japanese mega-metal rock band X Japan (they sound like a mixture of Pantera and Led Zeppelin with just a twinge of boy-band) as they, sigh, rise, fall and rise again. Director Stephen Kijak is good at what he does, the film, which follows drummer/pianist/all-around smooth-skinned musician Yoshiki, captures a) the enormity of this band and b) the curse of suicide and anguish that seems to plague them through their years shredding in front of screaming fans. This is a “metal” band (extremely loud and extremely soft, to paraphrase Yoshiki) but one that calls tens of millions of screaming, cosplayed out women as their fans. What Kijak does particularly well is allow us brief glimpses into the emotional terrain of Yoshiki, a pained musician, who regardless of how famous he gets can’t shake the agony of his past. And yes, of course, we get a plethora of talking heads from around the music world, who pontificate about just how good these guys are, just how important they are to music, as well as brief asides to highlight the pain these famed folks endured. But, Kijak never digs deep enough into what’s truly interesting about the film – first and foremost the idea that this enormous (they sell out huge arenas) band never really made a dent into American pop culture. Second, though a larger chunk of the movie is dedicated to vocalist Toshi’s time spent, well, brainwashed by a cult, Kijak never resolves it, never finds its meaning in the larger context of these musicians. Instead, he grabs on tight to the up-down-up structure of these kind of things and sort of lets the bigger, more interesting stories dead-end. We Are X is, as so many music documentaries are, an entertaining, well-made film, and yes, it focuses on a genre of music – Japanese Metal – that I at least knew nothing about previously. But, aside from the story of X, or at least the parts that fit into the overarching “music documentary” narrative, I still don’t know that much. And you know, from the glimpses We Are X allows, that’s a shame.
One Last Thought:
I’m not convinced X is a band I enjoy. They’re too, you know, hairy and glittery.