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Review: Rock doc ‘We Are X’ for X Japan fans only

Movie tells the story of Japanese rock outfit X Japan but leaves too many big questions unexplained

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Many questions are left unanswered in “We Are X,” the story of X Japan, the over-the-top rock outfit that is huge in its homeland, but relatively unknown on these shores.

X Japan’s concerts — the film is centered around a 2014 Madison Square Garden show — are flashy, pyro-laden affairs. But attempts to crack the U.S. market failed, with language being the chief dealbreaker.

The band is led by Yoshiki, its frail, feeble drummer, and part of the mystery lies with his inability to open up on camera. His enigmatic status among the band’s faithful is illustrated by fans who quiver and sob in his presence, but as an interview subject, he flatlines. When discussing the exit of the band’s bassist, Taiji, Yoshiki explains “he did something he shouldn’t have,” and leaves it at that. If there’s more to the story, you won’t get it from “We Are X.”

Director Stephen Kijak, veteran of rock docs on the Rolling Stones (“Stones in Exile”) and Backstreet Boys (“Show ’Em What You’re Made Of”), does trace X Japan’s wild history, filling it out with plenty of archival footage from the group’s ’80s and ’90s heyday. The band’s look is pure glam metal — picture Poison circa 1987, all makeup and teased-out hair — and its sound evolved from thrash to “Use Your Illusion”-era Guns N’ Roses-style bloat.

X Japan’s concerts — the film is centered around a 2014 Madison Square Garden show — are flashy, pyro-laden affairs. But attempts to crack the U.S. market failed, with language being the chief dealbreaker.

The band’s importance and influence is extolled by talking heads including Marilyn Manson and Gene Simmons, which give the film a glossy, promotional feel. More interesting are the wells of darkness and sadness that surround the group: two members committed suicide, and lead singer Toshi was once lured into a cult and brainwashed by his wife. Those elements should be the film’s starting point, not an afterthought.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘We Are X’

GRADE: C

Rated R: for some language

Running time: 93 minutes