Regular(4/17) – Ryuichi Sakamoto, Oscar-Winning Composer, Dies at 71


1. Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of Japan’s most prominent composers, who scored the films “The Last Emperor,” “The Sheltering Skyand “The Revenant” and was a founder of the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra techno-pop band, died on Tuesday. He was 71.

2. His Instagram page announced the date of his death, but it did not provide further details. Mr. Sakamoto said in 2021 that he had received a diagnosis of rectal cancer and was undergoing treatment. Equally comfortable in futuristic techno, orchestral works, video game tracks and intimate piano solos, Mr. Sakamoto created music that was catchy, emotive and deeply attuned to the sounds around him. 

3. Along with issuing numerous solo albums, he collaborated with a wide range of musicians across genres, and received an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Grammy and two Golden Globes. His Yellow Magic Orchestra, which swept the charts in the late 1970s and early ’80s, produced catchy hits like “Computer Game” on synthesizers and sequencers, while also satirizing Western ideas of Japanese music.

What are some of your impressions of Ryuichi Sakamoto? Who are some other Japanese musicians whom have made a big impact overseas?

4. “The big theme of him is curiosity,” the musician Carsten Nicolai, a longtime collaborator, said in a phone interview in 2021. “Ryuichi understood, very early, that not necessarily one specific genre will be the future of music — that the conversation between different styles, and unusual styles, may be the future.”

5. Mr. Sakamoto was beginning to achieve wide recognition in the early 1980s when the director Nagisa Oshima asked him to co-star, alongside David Bowie, in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” a 1983 film about a Japanese P.O.W. camp. Mr. Sakamoto, having no background in acting, agreed under the condition that he could also score the film.

6. The movie’s synth-heavy title track remained one of Mr. Sakamoto’s most famous compositions. He often adapted it, including for “Forbidden Colors,” a vocal version with the singer David Sylvian, as well as piano renditions and sweeping orchestral arrangements. Then came music for films by the director Bernardo Bertolucci, including “The Last Emperor” (1987) “The Sheltering Sky” (1990) and “Little Buddha (1993). Mr. Bertolucci was demanding — he would shout “More emotional, more emotional!” at the composer, and made him rewrite music on the fly during recording sessions with a 40-person orchestrabut “The Last Emperor” won Mr. Sakamoto an Oscar in 1988.

Are there any soundtracks, musical scores for movies that you appreciate? Who are some composers or artists that you admire and why do you admire them?

7. Mr. Sakamoto returned to his classical roots in the late 1990s with the album “BTTB,” orBack to the Basics,” a collection of sentimental, delicate piano arrangements that evoked Claude Debussy, alongside more experimental wanderings into the innards of the piano in the spirit of John Cage.

8. That release included “Energy Flow,” originally written for a commercial for a vitamin drink and released as a single after television viewers called in en masse to ask how they could find the music. Amid Japan’s Lost Decadea term for the economic stagnation that followed years of technology-driven growth — the tender piano ballad seemed to offer solace.

9. Perhaps it’s because people are looking for healing, for some answer to the stress of their country’s recession,” Mr. Sakamoto speculated, whenEnergy Flowbecame the first instrumental track to reach No. 1, in 1999, on Japan’s Oricon charts. After the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in 2011, Mr. Sakamoto became an activist in Japan’s antinuclear movement, organizing a No Nukes concert in 2012 at which a reunited Yellow Magic Orchestra, and the band Kraftwerk, one of Yellow Magic’s major influences, performed.

How do you use music in your life? In what ways can music or musicians change society??

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