In the new feature documentary We Are X, the band X Japan and its founder, drummer and bandleader Yoshiki, are profiled, laying bare Yoshiki’s tragic story, contrasted to the band’s ascent to playing New York’s Madison Square Garden. Nonetheless, the band is still relatively unknown in the United States; by comparison, in their home country, X Japan sold out the giant stadium, Tokyo Dome, 18 times over the course of their careers.
For director Stephen Kijak, he went into the project aware of Yoshiki’s past, including the shocking suicide of his beloved father. “The band had a long history of dealing with death and destruction through their personal lives,” Kijak said. “Professionally, Yoshiki seemed haunted by it. The more we dug in, the more bodies we discovered; you have to modulate it a bit and not let it overwhelm everything.”
Certainly, Yoshiki’s story is central to X Japan’s history. “It shaped him so permanently,” Kijak revealed. “It is a major driving force that keeps him in this mode of creation and rebirth. Discovering rock music became his salvation.”
Indeed, Yoshiki himself was wary of participating in an intimate documentary at the outset. “At the beginning, I was not sure if we should create this film or not,” Yoshiki commented. “It was too painful to talk about all of those things. It took several years to get started. Now, it was therapeutic. I am glad we did it.”
In Kijak’s eyes, once the project got off the ground, the process came naturally to the band members, especially Yoshiki. “He enjoys being filmed,” said the director. “That camera is running at all times. Once he decided that he was going to do the movie, it was an open door. We were privy to every minute of the rehearsal process, backstage, onstage, early mornings.”
Over the course of a year and a half, Kijak interviewed Yoshiki six times, leading up to the Madison Square Garden show. “The concert itself was filmed with a 16-18-camera setup by a company that specializes in live stuff,” Kijak explained. “We had the documentary access – up close and personal with Yoshiki throughout the process. For the most part, it was two of us – Sean Kirby and John Maringouin helped shoot and edit the film.”
Culminating in the Garden gig, the film presents the band in America as never before. “Regardless of We Are X film, it was our dream to perform Madison Square Garden,” said Yoshiki who brought Kijak and his crew back to Tokyo after the show to shoot additional material at gravesites. “The thematic layers of death – it helped feed the thematic thrust of things,” Kijak added.
Yoshiki finally deemed the film project, which he titled We Are X, “exciting.” “When I decided to create this film, I decided to open the door all the way,” he said. “It was painful to do those interviews, but I don’t know how people are going to react. The reason we tried to create this film is not to make ourselves famous. People convinced me that the film can help people move off of a depression problem.”
Part glam rock, part heavy metal, and all spectacle, X Japan is a throwback to the excess of the 1970s according to Kijak, and the Madison Square Garden show presented the best evidence of that stature. “MSG is the top,” said the director. “Hugely symbolic for them as a way to show the Western world, ‘We are here and can do this—pay attention to us.’ You don’t really see much of their kind any more. It’s a survival story. We Are X is a conduit to the fan discovering them for the first time.”
Drafthouse Films out of Austin, Texas releases We Are X at the Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles on October 21, 2016. From there, it will expand to San Francisco, Austin, and then the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn before going out wider.