Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一) is an actor-musician who is known for his musical score and soundtrack for the 1983 film entitled Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (戦場のメリークリスマス). He also took the role of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp commandant in the same movie. As an Academy Award winner who survived throat cancer himself, he only wishes for one more thing before he dies and that is to record the perfect album.
Ryuichi Sakamoto was born on the 17th of January, 1952 and began his music career in the 1970s. First, he became a member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra (イエロー・マジック・オーケストラ – YMO), a Japanese electronic music band. Each of the members was seasoned veterans which made them successful especially in the year 1978. Some of their worldwide hits were “Behind the Mask” (synthpop song written by Ryuichi) and “RYDEEN 79/07” (a track in the band’s second album).
As a musician, composer, and record producer, Sakamoto played a major role in the development of techno, synthpop, and house genres. (Techno is an electronic dance music that first emerged in the USA. Synthpop is a genre of popular music which features the synthesizer as a dominant musical instrument. House is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in Chicago.) At the same time, he also pursued a solo career wherein he released some of his albums which greatly influenced electro (genre of electronic music and early hip-hop) and hip-hop music. One of his compositions entitled “Energy Flow” became the first no. 1 single in Japan’s Oricon (a company that supplies statistics and information on music) charts history.
Sakamoto earned a B.A. in music composition and an M.A. in electronic and ethnic music at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (東京藝術大学). His actual intention was to become a researcher in the field of music as he has spent most of his life studying and learning about various world music traditions. He was influenced by Claude Debussy, a French composer who was a prominent figure associated with impressionist music. He also trained in classical music and started experimenting with electronic music equipment. He became so fond of it that later on, he collaborated with Tsuchitori Toshiyuki (土取利行).
Sakamoto started working with Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣 – a Japanese musician, songwriter, and record producer) and Yukihiro Takahashi (高橋幸宏 – a Japanese musician, record producer, and actor) whom he, later on, formed the band with. The Yellow Magic Orchestra was founded in 1978 and has since continued to influence so many genres including hip-hop, techno, acid house, etc. Most of their songs were written and composed by Sakamoto such as “Nice Age” and “You’ve Got to Help Yourself (以心電信).”
Sakamoto’s first solo album was released in the middle of 1978 and was called Thousand Knives (千のナイフ) of Ryuichi Sakamoto. It included so many styles of music resulting from experimentation with a particular emphasis on electronic music fused with traditional Japanese music. There were several electronic musical instruments used in recording the music. A version of the song “Thousand Knives” was also released in one of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s albums.
Sakamoto has won several awards in his lifetime including an Academy Award, a Grammy, BAFTA, and 2 Golden Globe Awards. He has also received 3 BAFTA Award for Best Film Music nominations and 4 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score nominations.
As a film composer, Sakamoto’s most successful work was The Last Emperor, a 1987 biographic film about the life of Puyi (愛新覚羅溥儀) who was the last emperor of China. After this, he continued composing for some films such as Little Buddha and The Revenant. Moreover, he was also given several awards for his musical contributions. It is said that he also took part as a composer and scenario writer of some anime and video games.
In 1983, aside from taking part in the musical score, Sakamoto also took part in acting alongside David Bowie (an English singer, songwriter, and actor) in the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. He became so close with Bowie during their filming days that the rockstar’s death this 2016 shocked him. He remembered Bowie as a dear friend who was straightforward and nice.
In the 1980s, a number of Sakamoto’s solo albums were released. He even extended his solo career outside the country wherein he searched for more influences and collaborators. Some of the global artists he collaborated with were Marco Prince, Arto Lindsay, David Sylvian, and Ingrid Chavez.
In 2005, Sakamoto was hired by mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia, to compose ring and alert tones for their mobile phones. Some of these tones were offered for free on the Nokia website. In 2013, he became a jury member at the 70th Venice International Film Festival which took place in Italy from the 28th of August to the 7th of September in 2013. There were around 20 films which the jury viewed before making their decisions.
In 2014, Sakamoto announced that he had been diagnosed with a throat cancer so he needed to have a total break from his work in order to recover. A year later, he announced that he is feeling better and thinks of going back to work. He also announced his future plans of providing music to different films and the like.
For the time being, Sakamoto is planning to compose the perfect album which he would like to work on before he dies. Though it is still quite hard for him to focus because of his long-term illness, what preoccupies him the most right now is his own music. It has been so long since he made his last album and he thinks that it’s about time for him to bring out a new one. The album that he’s planning to record will be the masterpiece of all time that he truly wishes for.
As a successful composer, Sakamoto has definitely lived his life to the fullest. He has done so much, not only for Japan but for many people around the world, that he truly deserves to be called one of the most influential persons to have ever lived. I just hope he’ll be able to record the perfect album that he has always hoped for.