We Are X is a music documentary about X Japan, a progressive rock band that is one of the biggest bands in the world, according to the film. The documentary recounts the band’s history by focusing primarily on the band’s dynamic drummer, Yoshiki. This story isn’t told chronologically primarily though. It cuts back and forth between Japan X’s preparations for a recent concert in Madison Square Garden and moments from the band members’ lives. At times we hear about incidents in the past and then only later to get the details about that incident when the incident ties in thematically to the present day story. To the film’s credit, it’s never confusing. Rather it weaves an emotional tapestry of Japan X. After watching the film, I felt like I had an emotional connect to the band and their songs.
The overriding emotion that apparently drives Yoshiki and Japan X is grief. Yoshiki’s father committed suicide when Yoshiki was a boy and two of the band’s former members committed suicide as well. Yoshiki, the principal songwriter for the band, is haunted by these losses, and Japan X’s songs express that sadness. The band’s music isn’t mellow. Rather, it is loud, flashy, and glamorous. This is metal music without the coldness. Japan X calls it “Visual-Kei.” But the melancholy emotional core is still there. Fans of the band recount how the music helped them deal with losses as well.
We Are X is extremely intimate. Though these are rockstars who are always putting on a show in public, for the documentary cameras, they are quiet and genuine. The documentary crew isn’t shy about asking intimate questions either. We Are X feels much more “real” than most rockumentaries. The questions felt almost inappropriate at times.
When I was in college and professionals would visit out classes to talk to us about their jobs, I would always ask the same question: “What’s the hardest thing about your job?” Now, a decade later and a decade wiser, I am ashamed I always asked that question. Now working through my own career, I am aware that the most difficult things about my job aren’t anything that has to with the day-to-day tasks of my work. The most difficult thing about my job is the emotional toll it often takes on me because of the defeats and losses I endure as I work. Like most college students, I was a little stupid and brash. I didn’t know how probing and intimate a question I was asking in college.
I don’t think the film crew was being insensitive. The members of Japan X don’t seem uncomfortable in the interview segments of the film. They seem eager to talk (most of the time).
We Are X should remind us not to lionize artists we admire for their celebrity. The celebrity is often a burden. The artistic drive to create is often fueled by loss, as it is for Yoshiki and Japan X. We should admire their willingness to express their complicated emotions about their lives with us. We should respect that vulnerability. We Are X is a compelling portrait of a band I had never heard of before. The world is so full of beautiful people living rich lives. Some of them are famous. Yoshiki and his bandmates are among them.