WE Are X,” the first official documentary focused on Japanese heavy metal band X-Japan and its co-founder, leader and drummer Yoshiki, was recently screened in Shanghai. American Filmmaker Stephen Kijak has previously directed music documentaries on bands like the Rolling Stones and Backstreet Boys. His latest foray into the “rocumentary” genre won the Special Jury Award for Best Editing at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
X-Japan was one of the most prominent rock bands in Japan during the 1980s and 90s. The group was a pioneer in visual kei, a Japanese music style similar to glam rock, where artists use make-up, exuberant hairstyles and wild costumes to supplement their performances onstage.
Fans of X-Japan have been hoping for a reunion ever since the group disbanded in 1997. Shortly thereafter, guitarist Hide was found dead in his apartment. The band eventually got back together in 2008, and has since held concerts around the world.
X-Japan’s latest studio album, its first in 20 years, is expected to be released at end of this year or early 2017.
The documentary starts as Yoshiki and his band mates prepare for their Madison Square Garden performance in October 2014, and then delves back into the dramatic history of the group and its co-founder.
Yoshiki also opens up about Hide’s death, his father’s suicide, his childhood friend and band vocalist Toshi’s disastrous “brainwashing” experience, and the more recent death of former bassist Taiji who had recently re-connected and performed with the band.
Following the recent screening, the versatile 51-year-old musician and director Kijak were kind enough to sit down with the Shanghai Daily and shared their thoughts on the film and the story behind the celebrated band.
Q: It was said that neither of you really wanted to do the film at the beginning. What changed your minds?
Kijak: It wasn’t like I didn’t want to do it, but I just didn’t know the band’s story. They were X to me. And then I saw their slogan, “psychedelic violence crime of visual shock,” that was definitely a hook. I heard Yoshiki had more concerns about doing the film.
Yoshiki: It took me a few years to decide whether or not to do the film. It was really hard for me to open that door to the past. Our past is just too crazy to be true, and too sad to be true. And now I’m glad that eventually I decided we should do the movie.
Q: Did it click when you two met for the first time?
Kijak: It was already clicking in my mind. I wanted to get into this. You said you were afraid to open that door. I wanted to kick the door open. I wanted to get in there, to walk through the door, because it is full of stories you can’t make up. For a story-teller, a filmmaker, that is gold mine: this unbelievable drama. It was miracle we actually fit it in one movie. He seemed to be willing to open up, to knock the wall down.
Yoshiki: While the door is open, why not open it all the way? It was kind of a strange feeling for me, because I’m used to being in charge of everything — recording, producing, the concert stage, etc ... I just let Stephen do his job, I just let it go and let it happen.
It was of course a trust issue, but also I felt very comfortable doing this now. If it was 10 years ago, I could see myself being unsatisfied with everything and trying to control everything, but now everything makes sense.
He had access to the huge amount of archived footages, and at the same time he was shooting new footages. That must have been a very overwhelming experience for him.
At the beginning, I was just trying to avoid the real issue, but after a few interviews, I completely let it open. I thought I already opened it all the way, but it was in those interviews I realized there is still a long way to go. I started talking more about Hide’s death, Taiji’s death. It was not easy.
For years, I was always surrounded by cameras, always documented, but the interviews were really what made it different. I have never gone so in-depth in a conversation on screen.
Q: You have made music documentaries about other musicians before. How was this one different?
Kajik: It was on a totally different level ... I’ve never seen fans like this, and the archived footage is fantastic.
I’ve never seen hair or makeup like that. It was faster, louder, and more dramatic. It was just like everything else I’ve done, but amplified to an unbelievable degree. So it was probably one of the most exciting films I’ve done to date.
Also it was past, but we were also seeing something happening right in front us too, seeing you getting ready for Madison Square Garden, seeing fans exploding with emotions. It was really a full experience.