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The mega-popular, decades-old stadium-rock group X Japan features speed-metal-fast drums, emo-ballad lyrics and hair-metal-meets-Alice-Cooper costumes that make them look like many-abbed, leather-clad descendants of kabuki actors and KISS. You can’t tell much else about the band based on behind-the-scenes rock doc We Are X, a maddeningly vague primer.
The film purports to illuminate band leader/composer/drummer Yoshiki’s motives for making record-breaking populist art, but here he doesn’t say anything insightful about his private life or his health problems — tendonitis, chronic wrist pain — beyond pseudo-poetic observations like “pain is my friend, my enemy, my lover.” And while he says that his father’s suicide influenced his music, he never really explains how.
Supplementary talking-head interviews only make Yoshiki seem more pointlessly elusive, like when fellow musician Marilyn Manson says that Yoshiki “[does] music” to “exorcise demons — and then exorcise with demons.”
All director Stephen Kijak’s frustrated attempts at getting into Yoshiki’s head leave little time for viewers to hear much of what X Japan’s music actually sounds like. We never see X Japan performing for more than a few seconds at once, making it hard to know what Yoshiki means when he describes the group’s style as simultaneously “very hard” and “very soft.”
Die-hard X Japan fans may enjoy seeing Yoshiki talk about his past, but everyone else will leave We Are X wondering who X Japan is, and why Marilyn Manson doesn’t understand how exorcisms work.
We Are X
Directed by Stephen Kijak
Opens November 4, Alamo Drafthouse