By Liz Lopez
I attended the SXSW Film Festival this past March and viewed numerous music documentaries, but the one that I unfortunately missed is “We Are X” directed by Stephen Kijak (“Scott Walker – 30 Century Man,” “Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of”). The feature documentary won the audience award for Excellence in Title Design and covers an over 30 year period of the band X Japan, formed in 1982 by teen friends, Yoshiki (songwriter, drummer, and a classically trained pianist) and Toshi (lead singer) who knew each other since childhood. Despite X Japan’s tremendous success at home for over three decades, many of us in the West did not know of or follow their music. Kijak is an American director known as a specialist for his work with documentaries and did not know of the band before embarking on this production. The documentary presents a story about the band’s beginning that led to a meteoric rise, the band break up in 1997 for a decade, then to their reunion with them achieving their dream of performing in the U. S. and the concert in 2014 at Madison Square Garden.
It is an excellent, informative story about the band, more importantly about the individual members – past and current, Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata, Heath, Sugizo, Taiji, Hide – who have made the band what it was and continues to do throughout the world, making music and history along the way no matter what life experiences they’ve endured.
Without telling readers in this article all that transpired, suicide is something that has occurred in the life of band members and fans as well. There are scenes of some incredible sadness. Disclosing all the extensive details for each one is not a necessary part of this story to understand the pain and what is part of their journey to move forward. What Yoshiki and other individuals provide for this film is adequate to reflect how human the rock stars really are.
This is a film that is meant to be viewed on the big screen to truly view the band’s various rock concert scenes, their artistic presentation with costumes and make up that evolved over the years as well as admire their overall showmanship. There are music-video clips and seeing the archival concert scenes provides viewers with the sights and sounds that garnered legions of fans before and surely now.
Stephen Kijak was in Austin for a special screening of “We Are X” and I spoke to him during this time. He stated he was approached by John Battsek (producer of the Oscar® winning “Searching for Sugar Man”) to helm this project, after Yoshiki said he wanted to do it and wanted the best. He did not know the artist or the band and said “it was like an expedition to an unknown” with this vast story of Yoshiki. “More than culture, it is the personal landscapes of Yoshiki and his life, (something) great to have.”
With the history of over three decades and so many individuals, the task was how to break it down and what to focus on for the film. “These stories are daunting – it is not one life; there is the life of the band, this whole phenomenon.” The focus was placed on Yoshiki by necessity, as half of the band did not want to talk, aside from some language barriers. “Yoshiki was more accessible and available to me,” adding that Yoshiki was the source for driving this project forward.
As far as the artist involvement with the production, the filmmaker stated, “He gave us free reign. He never came in to edit.” He added that they started in an observational way for him to get him used to the team, yet “he is used to being filmed for over 30 years, he kind of likes to be in the eye of the storm.” He also said they did not look at him as a rock god, but rather someone who wants a movie made. “There is no pretense,” then he mentioned a scene of Yoshiki coming down from a performance and going to brush his teeth.” The director said it is one of his favorite shots and wanted it in the film.
When asked to identify one thing he thought to be the most challenging, he paused to consider. “The easiest to say is the editing, with the enormity of it” and then he added there were “little tiny challenges along the way, like “getting kicked out of parks” as they were trying to film, but then saw some samurai warriors. “It was not planned. The challenge is being open to chance, not wanting to control so much.”
Yoshiki came to Austin for a special screening of “We Are X” and we spoke during this visit.
The bandleader stated his American agent approached him about it, but was reluctant at first because he thought it was too painful with all the memories, but eventually he was convinced. He wants the “story to give courage to move on in a positive way.”
After the film finished and viewed by the public, Yoshiki shared his feelings about it. When he saw a semi finished version, he said he was “shocked at first,” seeing everything put into 90 – 100 minutes was “too much,” but that is different now that he has seen it several times now at various film festivals and in different parts of the world. “The reaction was amazing,” and added it was “very strange, as if people can see inside of me.” It was a subject he did not want to talk about for long time, and now it is out to the world.
I asked Yoshiki what he wants people to remember from the film. He responded quickly, “Nothing is impossible; after these things happened, we are still here.” He mentioned he never thought the band would reunite. “My point is, yeah, I just want people to think nothing is impossible, even though people have pain.” Even though there is “no way to conquer it, but find a way to coexist; life is not that bad.”
Yoshiki stated they headlined three nights in Japan last week, and have a date scheduled to perform in Carnegie Hall. The band is working on the new album with an expected release date in the Spring.
“We Are X” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival as a part of the World Cinema Documentary competition and took home the special jury award for Best Editing. The film has a running time of 93 minutes and is in English, Japanese dialogue. Thanks to Drafthouse Films, “We Are X” has a theatrical release, starting in Los Angeles last week and now in Austin and other parts of the nation on October 28th. To see a list of the playdates for this film in your area, visit http://www.wearexfilm.com
Source: Drafthouse Films