10 things you need to know about Ryuichi Sakamoto

News 15 Jun 2016
Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award during the 16th edition of the World Soundtrack Awards on 19 October 2016. Film Fest Gent and World Soundtrack Awards celebrate this fact by recording a unique album, with his most important scores for film and television. In case you never heard of the name Ryuichi Sakamoto, here are 10 facts that will instantly turn you into a Sakamoto-fan!

1 Before he became a film composer, he already was a Japanese popstar
Sakamoto tried his hands on composing for the first time in 1983 for the movie ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’, by director Nagisa Oshima. It resulted in a BAFTA award and, five years later, he would win an Oscar for Best Score for Bernardo Bertolucci’s ‘The Last Emperor’. But before his career as a film music composer, his name was well known within the Japanese electronic music scene. He had several international hits with the Yellow Magic Orchestra that made their mark on genres as synth pop, techno and house. His solo work includes the albums ‘Thousand Knives’ and ‘B-Unit’.

2. He made his acting debut alongside David Bowie
Not only did “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” form the starting point of his career as a film music composer, but also the kick off of his career as an actor. Sakamoto performed one of the main roles in the film, next to David Bowie. The film, which takes place in a Japanese camp for prisoners of war, portrays the two as soldiers, between whom an almost sexual like tension can be felt. A compelling performance by two eccentric personae, who are clearly evenly matched.

3. He started composing when he was 11 years old
As a toddler, Ryuichi took up piano lessons. Inspired by the record collection of his uncle, the first composer he was smitten by was Bach. Even at a young age, he showed interest in the way music was written and it did not take long before he started composing himself.

4. His inspirations range from Claude Débussy and Bach to Kraftwerk
Although his classical schooling can be heard throughout his work, it is hard to pin Sakamoto down to just one genre. In the seventies, he used his virtuosity in the unique sound of Yellow Magic Orchestra and later as a solo artist. Feeling restricted by the 12-tone system of Western music, he started experimenting with ethnical music. Synthesizers offered him a new path in his search for an original Japanese sound. In 1970, the theoretical, focused and simple approach of Kraftwerk found its way into Sakamoto’s musical repertoire. It resulted in a more lively version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Robot’ pop.

5. He appeared in a Madonna video clip
Sakamoto keeps on surprising and is known throughout the Western Pop World. In 1993 he appeared in the video clip to the song ‘Rain’ by Madonna, directed by Mark Romanek. The video clip, in which the black and white shots were later hand painted in colour, went on to win several awards at the MTV Music Awards.

6. He is a political activist
After the Fukushima disaster, Ryuichi Sakamoto took to the streets together with other celebrities in a big protest in Yoyogi Park. He spoke to the 170.000 protestors: “It is just electricity. Why do we risk lives, just for that? I hope that in 2050, it will be normal for every household and office to produce their own energy.” His speech ended with the sentence: “Keeping silent after Fukushima is barbaric”.

7. He survived lung cancer
After his 2014-diagnosis, Sakamoto cancelled all of his projects but one, the score for Innaritu’s ‘The Revenant’, which he started after his treatment.

8. Sakamoto has his own eyewear collection to promote the organisation moreTrees
moreTrees plants trees all over the world to prevent the extinction of natural resources. Sakamoto designed three frames, which are crafted - environmentally friendly - from Japanese cedar wood and bio plastic.

9. His daughter, Miu Sakamoto, is also a successful artist
Miu Sakamoto is a pop singer who’s style can be described as j-pop but with a lot more complexity. Father and daugther have a strong connection and work together in the production of het musical compositions.

10. Film Fest Gent will create an one-of-a-kind Sakamoto album
A great part of his work for film and television can be found on separate albums, but never before on an album that praises his whole oeuvre. Film Fest Gent will release a cd, containing a collection of his most ingenious work for film and television, in a unique recording by Brussels Philharmonic, conducted by Dirk Brossé. You can help to create this album, by making a donation to our crowdfunding campaign! As a perk, you will receive the CD, but more and bigger things are also possible. Check out our campaign page and find out what is in it for you!

Bringing R. Sakamoto's film music to your ears!