An Homage to Ryuichi Sakamoto

Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away on March 28, 2023. Just a little while ago. If he had been battling cancer for many years now, we all wished he had more time to create and gift the world with his talent.

Ryuichi Sakamoto

Ryuichi Sakamoto © JAMES HADFIELD/The Japan Times

During a career of over 50 years, Sakamoto has brought attention to Japanese contemporary music and has managed to place himself at the forefront of avant-garde, classical, and film music. He has developed quite a unique style, reflecting both on the East, and the West. Discreetly, he has become one of the most influential composers of the 21st century.

Yellow Magic Orchestra – “Rydeen”

Sakamoto’s career can be divided into two parts; a first one with the Yellow Magic Orchestra and a second one as a solo artist. Although the composer found much success with the group he started with, it is in the latter part of his career that this article focuses on. It is also the period during which Sakamoto has developed his musical personality the most, and has been the most fertile.

This short written homage wishes to draw attention to his work and particularly his approach to music centered around his second to last project entitled async.

It seems that two figures have influenced Sakamoto the most; Debussy and Cage. If these are not the only influences — electronic music has played a fundamental role in shaping Sakamoto’s personality — they are definitely present, however, they appear with different shapes. While it is certain that Debussy has been important for the composer, Cage has never been acknowledged. Yet, his philosophy is present, and particularly in async. Unless it is the philosophy of Sakamoto that is present in Cage’s own work.

Interestingly enough, both figures have initially been influenced by the music of the East. Sakamoto even once said that Debussy owed a lot to the music of Japan, and Sakamoto owed a lot to the music of Debussy. And Cage’s entire philosophy is based on Japanese Buddhism. A full circle one would say.

amore (Ryuichi Sakamoto + Fennesz )

If the music of Sakamoto resides in the world of minimalism, it is rather through the aesthetics of Japanese culture, than through the influence of the American musical movement. It is the art of preciseness, small movement, equality of sounds, and the beauty of the ordinary.

Ryuichi Sakamoto during recording

Ryuichi Sakamoto during recording ©

As the composer evolved through the years, he never let his past define him, rather, he built on what he could become. Sakamoto always maintained humility, curiosity, and simplicity in his works. If he was successful quite early as a musician, he never fell into the trap of repeating himself. When his first successes in film music appeared, he did not allow himself to repeat his past success, but rather gambled on new ways of finding creativity until his last project, Sakamoto sought ways to reinvent himself. In his later life, he returned to simplicity, allowing his existence and life events to influence his art.

Many people know Sakamoto without even realising they do. After all, he has scored many important film releases of the past decades including; Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Last Emperor, Little Buddha, Snake Eyes, The Revenant or Beckett. But one should discover what the composer has done with his own career; it is unique and delicate music, delightful and precious.

Ryuichi Sakamoto – Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

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