'We Are X' Director Stephen Kijak Compares Japanese Rocker Yoshiki to David Bowie and Prince

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Yoshiki (left), Stephen Kijak

The forefathers of glam rock, X Japan, are the subject of the Sundance doc from the director of 'Stones in Exile.'

The documentary We Are X centers on the too-crazy-to-be-believed story of Japanese heavy-metal band X Japan.

"It blew my mind," said director Stephen Kijak during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter of being introduced to X Japan a week before taking the job to document the band's history, which includes a tragic death, cult brainwashing and a show at Madison Square Garden.

Kijak is familiar with the rock doc genre, having helmed nonfiction features on musical groups from The Rolling Stones to The Backstreet Boys. "I thought I knew everything about music, and then there you are discovering this parallel universe that you didn't know existed a week prior," said the filmmaker.

X Japan are the underground forefathers of visual kei  a movement that is known for its elaborate hairstyles, outfits and makeup that could be described as a mix of futuristic, punk, goth and fantasy. The group's founding slogan translates to "Psychedelic Violence-Crime of Visual Shock."

The band's style, both fashion and musical, is believed to have influenced Western glam rock bands like KISS and Motley Crue.

X Japan bandmembers, as well as other musicians including Gene Simmons and Marilyn Manson and creative visionaries like Marvel patriarch Stan Lee, sat down with Kijak for the doc to discuss the impact that the group had in the music industry and beyond.  

Kijak said that in the beginning, it was clear the story would be told through the experiences of founding member and drummer Yoshiki. "It's not your standard rock doc," explained the director. "It very quickly becomes a portrait of Yoshiki and his journey."

Added Kijak of Yoshiki, "It's like you are meeting a mix of Michael Jackson, Bono and a little sprinkle of David Bowie." 

During filming, the helmer went through hundreds of hours of footage of the band. Kijak said one of the more interesting finds was behind-the-scenes footage from a forgotten video that had a naked Yoshiki on a beach, surrounded by fire, being directed by David Lynch. 

Concluded Kijak: "Now that we have lost the likes of Prince and Bowie — you get this feeling while being around [Yoshiki] that he is one of those guys. He is one of the last of a great breed, still walking the earth."  

We Are X, which premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival and screened at SXSW, is now playing in select theaters.

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