On March 18, in what was likely the definitive highlight of SXSW 2016, I had the opportunity to catch the final screening of the X Japan documentary, “We Are X“, at The Paramount Theatre, which was followed by a live classical performance from drummer and leading force of X Japan, Yoshiki.
“We Are X” is an emotional story that taps into Yoshiki’s past through intimate interviews in which he opens the doors wide open to discuss X Japan’s history and the turmoil that haunted the larger part of their career.
A good two-thirds of the documentary follows X Japan in the lead up to their Madison Square Garden concert in 2014. In between cuts of sound checks and stunning concert clips, the film explores X Japan’s rise to becoming one of the greatest bands of Japan, their influential style, and the history of death that followed after the band’s breakup in 1997.
The film puts a very large emphasis on pain and Yoshiki’s lifelong battle with it. As he explains it through one moment of darkness after another, time may pass and he may age, but pain never does. “We Are X” is an excellent portrayal of the negative and positive effects that can arise from pain, most notably in this film with death and the creation of art as a means of coping with it.
It was hard to believe that the program for the evening included a performance from the legend himself, but soon after the film cut to black and director Stephen Kijak took a few questions, Yoshiki came out and it was pretty much a downhill spiral of intense emotions and ugly crying.
Yoshiki was accompanied by a string quartet as he played through a few X Japan classics like “Endless Rain” and “Art Of Life“, as well as a last-minute addition of “Space Oddity” in tribute to David Bowie.
In one of the more heart-wrenching moments of the night, Yoshiki played “Without You” in dedication to deceased members Hide and Taiji, as well as his father. It was tough to sit through, given its history, but it was even harder to watch as Yoshiki played with such intensity and emotion throughout the song. To witness the overwhelming pain from “We Are X” flood the theatre through Yoshiki’s presence was striking, and in that moment made his story feel incredibly real.
Yoshiki also announced that he would be stepping in for a short set at Japan Nite at SXSW later that evening after word got to him that a couple of the bands scheduled to play ran into visa issues and couldn’t make it.
Talk about a pleasant surprise.