11 May 2017



Random drug-seeker on the street: 'Hey dudes, got any X...?'

The Band: 'Man, we ARE X...!'

I'm a little early with this review (for a change!) but I just couldn't wait to watch this film. It was shown at the 2017 Japanese Film Festival at Dublin's Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield recently to a rapturous reception, especially from my best mate who attended and is now the band's Number One Fan. (Move over, Kathy Bates in MISERY!)

She also declares herself madly in love with the band's lead singer Yoshiki now and wants to have his babies and grow old with him, etc. Bemused much? Allow me to explain...

X JAPAN, formerly known as just X, have been described as 'the biggest band in the world you've never heard of...yet!' They were formed in Japan back in 1982 by a talented but tortured young musical prodigy by the name of Yoshiki. This documentary follows Yoshiki and the current line-up of the band around in the lead-up to a huge comeback concert at one of the world's most iconic venues, Madison Square Gardens, in 2014.

Artists like Gene Simmons from KISS, who's a huge friend and admirer of the band's, think that if the band members had all been born in England or America instead of in Japan, they'd be world-famous now, like KISS themselves. As it is, X JAPAN are now and have been for over three decades Japan's biggest and most popular heavy metal group.

Now he's a famous musician, songwriter, composer, fashion designer, radio personality and record producer but back in the day, the devastatingly good-looking Yoshiki, X JAPAN's founding member, was a troubled teenager desperately trying to come to terms with his father's suicide.

Yoshiki was only eleven when it happened and we, the public, don't know the details as far as I'm aware. What we do know, however, is that to this day, Yoshiki still feels the pain of his father's actions. Unsurprisingly, it's a heartache that never goes away.

Yoshiki immersed himself in his music and the heavy metal band he formed with his best friend Toshi when he was only seventeen. A few short years later, Yoshiki formed his own record label and the band had achieved mainstream success by the late 'Eighties, thanks to their distinctive sound and even more distinctive looks.

The group is credited as being among the founding fathers of the 'visual kei' movement in music. This involves creating a very different and sort of rebellious look for your band. Huge free-standing multi-coloured dyed hair, an excess of make-up, boys being made-up to look like girls, magnificent outfits that might include gorgeous feminine kimonos, that's the type of thing you might expect to see. Everything over-the-top and simply fabulous and a bit like the Glam Rock look of artists like David Bowie and Marc Bolan. (Although neither of those ever wore kimonos onstage, to the best of my knowledge!)

The Yoshiki dolls we see in the documentary are just out-of-this-world stunning. They make Barbie and Ken look like a sack of s**t, seriously. Yoshiki's look has always been deliberately androgynous. Even today he appears sleekly elegant and feminine-looking but it hasn't prevented an army of female fans from treating him like the second coming of rock god Jim Morrison.

He has his own fashion line and a shrewd eye for what looks good on him. Even the designers of the iconic and instantly recognisable HELLO KITTY line of adorable fashion accessories and suchlike have created a line of 'YOSHIKITTY' products, all featuring the singing sensation's individualistic image.

Anyway, to get back to the band's actual history, after fifteen years of success beyond their wildest dreams and more rock 'n' roll excess than you could shake a stick at, the band split up
and, in Japan, it was a bit like The Beatles calling it a day. Fans all over the country were distraught. It was 1997 and the end of an era for followers of X JAPAN. But worse, much worse was to come.

The band's lead guitarist Hide committed suicide within six months of the group disbanding. His death hit the other members hard. He just couldn't handle the loss of the band in his life. That's how big a deal it was for all of them. 

There's footage of their 1997 farewell concert in the documentary and it was so sad, the tears were threatening the whole time I was watching it. All the band members were in bits while they were performing their songs for what they thought was the last time.

Then, in 2011, the group's bass guitarist Taiji followed in Hide's tragic footsteps and took his own life, even though the group had reformed in 2007. The remaining members of X JAPAN still consider their two deceased members to be very much a part of their group and they even play audio or video clips of their friends' singing or playing at their concerts.

The band's history reminds me very much of Badfinger's tragic back-story. Two members of Badfinger, a folk-pop-rock group from the early-to-mid-'Seventies with close ties to The Beatles, took their own lives as a result of depression brought about by terrible mismanagement of their band and their money.

X JAPAN didn't have management problems that I know of, but the suicides of Pete Ham and Tommy Evans from Badfinger do closely mirror the deaths of Hide and Taiji. The two bands have similarly sad and disturbing histories and it's understandable that the remaining band members in both cases would forever after live in the shadows of those painful demises.

Anyway, Yoshiki is very much the star of the documentary. I forgot to mention that he's the group's drummer but, far from being pushed into the background like drummers sometimes are- to make way for the guitarists and lead vocalists- there's no mistaking who wears the glittery kimono in this band, haha.

Watching Yoshiki relate the story of the band's origins from 1982 to the present day is a moving and touchingly emotional experience. The suicides of some of the people closest to him have left him fragile and, as his fans and online followers would know, he now requires urgent and possibly life-threatening surgery on his neck, to correct damage caused by years of drumming and headbanging in time to his own music. Ah, God love him, the wee angel. We wish him all the best for the future.

WE ARE X, which will be released by MANGA UK in DVD and Blu-Ray Steelbook on 22nd May 2017, isn't funny like SPINAL TAP but that's because, sometimes, real life isn't funny. It's sad and baffling but occasionally too, as with the band's concert at Madison Square Gardens, there can be moments of pure unadulterated triumph. The trick is to treasure those moments and hold them in your hearts forever.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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