Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: We Are X – glam rock giant X Japan’s tragic journey to fame and success

The ‘visual kei’ pioneers have suffered their fair share of heartache and pain on the way to the top, as recounted in Stephen Kijak’s documentary

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2016, 7:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2016, 7:04am

3½/5 stars

Epitomising Japan’s “visual kei” glam rock image, X Japan have weathered a series of tragic challenges and endured as one of the most popular heavy metal bands of the last 30 years. Structured around an interview with the band’s drummer and creative heart, Yoshiki, in the build-up to a sell-out gig at Madison Square Garden, Stephen Kijak’s documentary charts the highs and lows of X Japan’s career.

Yoshiki, a pallid, androgynous waif, whose life has been a string of personal tragedies countered only by his incredible success, proves a consistently fascinating focus. Forced to perform in a neck brace due to excessive head-banging, and subject to painful injections of painkillers in his arms before each performance, Yoshiki appears to flutter perpetually on the cusp of collapse, sustained only by his absolute commitment to musical perfection for his fans.

Heavy metal survivors X Japan hope first album in English is passport to wider fame

There is an element of Spinal Tap to the absurdity of the band’s journey, from attempting to break into the US market despite not speaking the language, to losing founding frontman Toshi to a brainwashing cult, to the devastating death of lead guitarist Hide in 1998, which sparked a ripple of fan suicides. However, told through Yoshiki’s tearful reminiscences, the results are genuinely upsetting.

We Are X would have benefited from greater insight into the band’s influences and creative process: the live performances included are electrifying. As it is, the film exists as a heart-wrenching portrait of a physically and emotionally fragile artist, and the band of equally vulnerable, tormented misfits he assembled around him.

We Are X opens on December 8

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