INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR STEPHEN KIJAK.
“Stephen Kijak has done an incredible job capturing and compiling the stories, emotion and music into a 93 minute vessel that will satisfy the hunger of X Japan fans and music documentary addicts alike!” You can read my full review of ‘We Are X’ here.
‘We Are X’ is directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) and sees Stephen breaking new ground as he admits “I had no idea who they were when we started this project!” I wanted to dig deeper into the world of X Japan and delve into Stephen’s first hand experience with X Japan & Yoshiki.
Q. What was your reaction watching X Japan for the first time at the Yokohama Arena?
“Oh my god, the head just explodes! Especially having no knowledge of them in their world beforehand, to be dropped side stage to experience this phenomenon, I really couldn’t believe it! 20,000 people jumping in unison making an ‘X’ in the air, your jaw drops! It was awe inspiring and I’ve seen everybody, I go to a lot of shows and truly humbling to know this has all existed for years and I’m this idiot that never heard of it and I’m being given the task to tell their story, it was a real humbling moment!”
Q. When you have so much archive footage available to you, how did you decide ‘this is the starting point’ of the X Japan story?
“The beginning (no lie) actually came to me in a dream! I woke up from a sound sleep and had started to see the beginning and hear those lines of dialogue. I just saw him (Yoshiki) thrashing away on the drums in slow motion with this idea of ‘Why do I exist?’ and ‘What is X?’ It’s a constant process in the edit of balancing the facts and the feelings. I tend to go more with a ‘vibe’ and a gut instinct and to me, it has to feel right.”
Q. You only had three days of pre-production. Was this a blessing in disguise?
“The initial immersion into it was just being around them and we started it with a very naturalistic, Cinéma vérité kind of tactic of just observing and following them around. The film became more stylised and constructed but we had that freedom in the beginning to get a feel of what that was.”
Q. How did your relationship with Yoshiki evolve during the filming process?
“Like with most documentaries, it was a process of establishing and building trust over time so that we would do these interviews and you would get a little closer each time. I think once he saw how we worked and saw how our crew operated and how I ran things, he was into it. I mean, he wanted this movie so he had to be open but we got on a groove which was really nice and he’s even still evolving in his understanding of the movie and coming to appreciate more and more of the work that we did which is really gratifying!”
“I think it was really important that someone from the West who has no preconceived notion or relationship to the music or the band did it because there’s so much reverence around him; In Japan especially, no one’s going to talk to him one on one, he’s Yoshiki – he’s their Rock God! To have someone talk to him like a normal person, I think was a total shock to him. I would just continue, hour after hour, interview after interview to just keep prodding and poking and going into the uncomfortable places and talking to him like a friend and that created a great space in which to work.”
INTERVIEW WITH YOSHIKI.
Yoshiki is seen as a musical icon and a symbol of hope by fans worldwide that have endured similar tragedies in their lives. ‘We Are X’ documents the darker days of the band and of Yoshiki himself, re-opening doors that Yoshiki has refrained from revisiting until now. I wanted to learn more about Yoshiki’s relationship with music, being a source of inspiration for fans and vice versa.
Q. What do you most enjoy about playing the Piano?
“It’s kind of romantic! I find it very soothing and when I don’t have to do anything, I play Piano. I play everyday, even when I travel, I try to bring the Piano to the hotel! (laughs)” (points to the Piano sitting behind me in the room.)
Q. Music has saved your life and continues to inspire fans worldwide. How does it feel knowing your music has touched so many lives?
“If I was not creating music, I might not have survived. Music has always been next to me and helped me through all those dramatic years. I’m very glad when people say ‘Your music has helped me’ but at the same time those fans are helping me, especially when X Japan broke up and Hide passed away. It’s a really nice relationship between the fans and myself!”
Q. Was it a ‘healing’ process being able to discuss the darker days of X Japan in ‘We Are X’?
“I think so. I was very afraid and I didn’t want to touch the subject for a long time but it turned out to be therapeutic but I was also afraid how it would be in the film. I’m very glad Stephen gave the film a positive ending!”
Q. What are your feelings and memories from performing at Madison Square Garden?
“Ecstasy (laughs) kinda. That was very cool, this is what I do, I live on stage. I get energy from everybody, which is a very cool thing and when I play drums really hard, I forget the pain.”
Q. X Japan are working on their first album in 20 years. What’s your recording process?
“As of now (October 2016), it’s all recorded, just editing. It’s just time, I wish I could have a recording studio on the plane! 50 percent of the time I’m up in the air, it’s hard to find the time to record! I write music on the score, I don’t need any musical instruments to compose; with a piece of paper and a pen, I can just keep on writing! Believe it or not, I write every single note, even drums on a score.”
Q. What would you like X Japan fans to ‘take away’ from watching ‘We Are X’?
“Nothing’s impossible, don’t give up. It’s not only our film, it’s your film (fans) as well, that’s why it’s called ‘We Are X’.”
Q. What are your thoughts about X Japan’s upcoming performance at Wembley Arena?
“One of my members (Pata) was very sick. I thought he was going to die! Nobody could reach him for three weeks, he was in ICU. We were supposed to play Wembley Arena last March but we had to postpone. It’s going to be another new chapter of X Japan, so we’re very much looking forward to performing there!”
‘WE ARE X’ Mondo Steelbook Blu Ray is distributed via Manga Entertainment on 22nd May 2017.