“If you put your everything into something, your life … you don’t lose. If worst comes to worst, you die.” (Yoshiki)
1975 was a formative year for one Yoshiki Hayashi, who – despite his life being limited by several ailments (and a severe case of asthma) – was a shining classical music prodigy; at the age of 10, he was already composing his own works – until the day his father committed suicide and the pain took over. He found some release in rock music, and in 1977, the Kiss-inspired Yoshiki and his childhood friend and vocalist Toshi formed a band called Dynamite, which became Noise in the following year. In 1982, Noise disbanded, and with the lack of a better name, ‘X’ was born (and the name found root).
By 1992, ‘X’ had been performing a mix of heavy/speed metal and slow ballads, with music that changed its shape often and ventured into progressive rock, until they cemented their own music/performance movement – visual kei. They had become the pioneers of both visual kei and of Asian rock/metal; their popularity soared and they both set a new stepping stone and inspired music bands all over Asia and gained a loyal following also in the Western World. In 1993, ‘X’ became ‘X Japan’ as a part of their Western market feat, but before it yielded any proper results, in 1997, X Japan fell apart from its very centre – Toshi left the band.
A few months later, the lead guitarist, hide, committed suicide (or caused his own accidental death, which is a claim supported by many, including his own band members), and it seemed that there was no going back. But even with that, in spite of all odds, Yoshiki and Toshi found their way back to each other in 2007. Slowly, with some new songs and domestic and overseas performances, along with numerous delays, X Japan found its footing again, until they stood on the stage of the NYC’s famed Madison Square Garden in 2014.
This is a short recap of the drama-and-emotion-heavy story of a band that is legendary in its own right and has sold over 30 million records, even though there are many who are completely unaware of its existence. The many included director Stephen Kijak (who previously created outstanding music documentary films with the subjects such as Scott Walker, the Rolling Stones and the Backstreet Boys), who accepted to direct the We Are X documentary without any prior knowledge of the band, but could not resist the glamorous subject it offered. By merging the pre-Madison-Square-Garden-performance hype, band member interviews and the rich footage from the band’s eventful past – along with some clever editing – he created a documentary that can make a person go from being totally clueless about the band to a total believer in a mere hour and a half.
Given the dramatic history of the band and the incredibly magnetic pull of Yoshiki, that is not at all surprising. On the surface, We Are X covers all the main points of the bands incredible history and with Yoshiki, the leader of the band, being the docu’s front, right and centre (there are moments when it feels as if he is more at the helm than the actual subject), the viewers are in for a true music-meets-visual-meets-emotional ride, with the colours, the beat, and a rare moment or two when memories are stronger that the persona Yoshiki painstakingly created – and we even catch a glimpse of what is behind that mysterious curtain.
Even though he shields himself and his internal pain with ever-present sunglasses, there is no mistake of what drives him to the extent of having a history of oxygen-deprived collapses after every concert, after he had attacked his drum set with inhuman speed, with torn ligaments and every other drumming-related injury you can fathom. For X Japan and their leader, it is not at all about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s not about chasing dreams, or fame, or even about chasing happiness. It is all about chasing the pain away.
Yoshiki himself states that pain does not age – “after 30 or 40 years, it’s the same. Everything disappears and disintegrates, but pain never disappears.” This pain, with an overwhelming sense of loneliness, is something their audience can latch on to; screaming the pain away, X Japan offers pain relief and connects everyone present and/or listening with its overwhelming sense of understanding. It has crafted an incredible, living bond between the band and its followers, a bond that has survived 3 decades and still finds new, willing ears and hearts.
“Those who carry the scars. They lean on our music to move through life with us. That is our sound. In spite of those wounds, those who won’t give up on the future and keep on living. Our music speaks to those souls.”
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © Passion Pictures