May 23, 2024

Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto passes away at 71

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Extremely sad news reaches us from Japan where renowned composer and producer Ryuichi Sakamoto, a pioneer in incorporating electronic production into popular music, has passed away at the age of 71. On March 28, Sakamoto succumbed to cancer after a years-long battle, as reported in a statement on his website on Sunday.

The statement shared one of Sakamoto’s favourite quotes: “Ars longa, vita brevis,” which translates to “Art is long, life is short.” The full statement was also published on Twitter as you can see below.

Composer and actor

Born on January 17, 1952, Sakamoto enjoyed a culturally rich upbringing, with his father working as an editor for postwar Japanese novelists like Kenzaburo Oe and Yukio Mishima. He began taking piano lessons at the age of six and later started composing his own music. As a teenager, he became captivated by the work of Claude Debussy, a composer who drew inspiration from Asian musical aesthetics, including Japanese styles.

Sakamoto, who was based in Tokyo and New York, began his career as a member of the legendary Japanese electronic music trio Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). He made his film composer debut with “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), in which he also starred as an actor alongside David Bowie. The main theme was adapted into the international hit single “Forbidden Colours,” featuring vocals by David Sylvian. Sakamoto continued his successful film composing career with works such as “The Last Emperor” (1987), “The Sheltering Sky” (1990), “Little Buddha” (1993), and “The Revenant” (2015).

Last album released in January

In January Side-Line presented Sakamoto’s last album, “12”, out via Milan Records. The 12 compositions were recorded by Ryuichi Sakamoto in Tokyo during his 2-year long fight with cancer throughout 2021-2022. The album, his 15th, was the first of new solo material since 2017. The album’s twelve tracks are titled and sequenced by the dates each were written, culminating in a diary-like collection of music that provides an intimate snapshot into this period of Sakamoto’s life.

Prior to the release of his album, Sakamoto debuted a special solo piano concert that was streamed online to over 60,000 viewers worldwide. His first live performance in two years, the concert was recorded at Tokyo’s renowned 509 Studio over a week and featured an hour of the composer playing new arrangements from his extensive repertoire and new album.

Watch “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” from the live-streamed “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Playing the Piano 2022” on Sunday, December 11, 2022.

Ryuichi Sakamoto will be dearly missed.

「どこにいても、元気でいてね」

“Time is so short, and I’m sure that I don’t have much time left. So I’m doing my best to enjoy every day.”

– Ryuichi Sakamoto, as quoted in an interview with Asahi Shimbun in 2017 –

author avatar
Bernard - Side-Line Staff Chief editor
Bernard Van Isacker is the Chief Editor of Side-Line Magazine. With a career spanning more than two decades, Van Isacker has established himself as a respected figure in the darkwave scene.

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