Ryuichi Sakamoto, Pioneering Japanese Composer, Dies at 71

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away at 71 after battling cancer.
Sakamoto scored over 40 films and received numerous accolades, including two Golden Globes, a Grammy, and a BAFTA.
He was a founding member of the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra trio and released more than 20 solo albums.
Sakamoto was a longtime political activist, particularly against nuclear power and weapons.

 

Oscar-winning composer, musician, actor, and activist Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away at the age of 71 after battling cancer.

Sakamoto was a prominent figure in the music industry, scoring over 40 films, including The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and The Revenant.

He received numerous accolades throughout his career, such as two Golden Globes, a Grammy, and a BAFTA.

Early Life and Musical Beginnings

Born in Tokyo in 1952, Sakamoto was surrounded by music, art, and culture from a young age. 

He began playing the piano at age 3 and attended the same famously liberal and creative preschool as Yoko Ono.

While studying at Tokyo University of the Arts, Sakamoto discovered electronic music and later became a founding member of the influential Yellow Magic Orchestra trio in 1978.

He released more than 20 solo albums throughout his career, with his B-2 Unit album in 1980 cited as an early influence on electro and hip-hop productions.

Film Scoring and Acting Career

Sakamoto made his debut as a film composer and actor in Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, winning a BAFTA.

He played a Japanese Imperial Army officer in both Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, which won nine Oscars, including best picture, director, and best original score for Sakamoto alongside David Byrne and Cong Su.

He continued to work on scores for various films, such as Oliver Stone’s Wild Palms and Brian de Palma’s Snake Eyes.

Sakamoto was a prominent figure in the music industry, scoring over 40 films, including The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and The Revenant.

Personal Life and Activism

Sakamoto was a longtime political activist, campaigning against nuclear power and weapons, and was a prominent voice in the anti-nuclear protests following the Fukushima meltdowns of 2011.

He was married twice, first in his student days, then to musician Akiko Yano, with whom he had a daughter, Miu Sakamoto, who became a successful pop singer in Japan.

In 1990, he began a relationship with his manager Norika Sora, marrying her and having two children.

Cancer Diagnosis and Later Years

Sakamoto was diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer in June 2014 and took the first significant break in his career.

He announced his recovery a little over a year later, working on Yoji Yamada’s Living With My Mother and scoring Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant.

He served on the jury at the Berlin Film Festival in 2018 and was awarded Asian Filmmaker of the Year by the Busan film festival a few months later.

Sakamoto’s influence on the music industry is undeniable, with his experimental electronic music inspiring various genres and artists around the world.

His passing leaves a lasting legacy in the world of music and activism.

Craig Miller

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