15 17 Oct '24

"It all started with Citizen Kane"

News 18 Oct 2016
Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is obsessed by the sound of rain. At his home in New York, he has a big stack of cassette recordings of rain. The film and weather gods were favourable to him here, because it was raining strongly when he arrived in Ghent for the Film Music Seminar.

As a child, Ryuichi Sakamoto wanted to become ‘nothing’. At least that’s what he told his teachers. But he admits that “there has always been music in his life”. “Ever since I was three years old and touched a piano for the first time, it has always been my favourite instrument”. After studying classical music, he followed composition theory at the university of Tokyo and had a special interest in ethnical music.

He was already a popstar when director Nagisa Ôshima asked him to act in ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’. He had never acted before, but “Ôshima was my big hero, so I couldn’t refuse the offer”. Although he was a movie buff and never really listened to film music, he suddenly had the idea to as well compose for ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’. Director Ôshima agreed, after all he was a musician. “I didn’t really know how to start composing. That’s why I asked Jeremy Thomas to give me one film reference to start the assignment. It became ‘Citizen Kane’ by Orson Welles. After that film, everything else derived”, says Sakamoto.

Because ‘Merry Christmas’ was in the title, he began collecting and listening to Christmas carols from all over the world. Once the film was made, there was a problem for the composer. Sakamoto laughs: “Because I played in the film, I had to write music for my own character. And I hated the way I acted. That is why I tried to compensate my bad acting skills with better music.”

Sakamoto remembers that he got a lot of freedom during his collaboration with Ôshima. When composing for ‘The Last Emperor’ by Bernardo Bertolucci, it was totally different. Bertolucci knew a lot about opera. “Bertolucci gave me the instruction to adjust Chinese music from the early twenties to the atmosphere of a modern European film. The music also had to be dramatic and epic at the same time. Bertolucci wanted to have a say in the kind of instruments I used. Ironically, the Eastern sounds and influences in the score of the film are attributed to me when they are originally from David Byrne.”

In recent years, Ryuichi Sakamoto stepped out of the spotlight and even disappeared from the stage for a year due to an illness. With the score for ‘The Revenant’ he made a memorable comeback. Curator Martine Huvenne showed a clip from that film to emphasize how music gives another dimension to the scene. Sakamoto watched, listened and smiled. “With ‘The Revenant’, there was a perfect harmony between me and the sound designer, which you don’t often experience. That is why my music is weighty, but the addition of sounds of nature gives it some open space feeling”, he said. He managed to compose a two hour long score that never derives the attention from the action.

Earlier that day, Jeff Beal and Jeff Russo talked about their compositions for ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Fargo’. Russo never lets his music distract the viewer from watching a bloody scene in ‘Fargo’. Jeff Beal as well as his colleague proved that a saying as “silence is one of the most eloquent music” is definitely true, and they let us hear the difference between electronic music and music played by musicians. Film and music lovers were silent. That silence was also eloquent.

Yesterday's Film Music Seminar on TV scoring, the creative collaboration and communication between filmmaker & composer, and different approaches for audiovisual productions, welcomed composers Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jeff Beal, Jeff Russo, Karsten Fundal and Johan Grimonprez.

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