Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一 Sakamoto Ryūichi?, born January 17, 1952) is an Academy Award-winning Japanese musician, composer, record producer and actor, based in New York and Tokyo. He plays keyboards in the influential Japanese electropop band Yellow Magic Orchestra. His 1999 musical composition "Energy Flow", also known as the alternative title of the single disc Ura BTTB, is the first number-one instrumental single in Japan's Oricon charts history.
Early years and Yellow Magic Orchestra
Sakamoto attended the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where he earned a B.A. in music composition and an M.A. with special emphasis on both electronic and ethnic music.
Sakamoto released his first solo album, The Thousand Knives of Ryūichi Sakamoto, in 1978. The album includes the songs "Thousand Knives" and "The End of Asia."
Following the disbanding of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto released a number of solo albums in the 1980s. While primarily focused on the piano and synthesizer, this series of albums boasted a roster of collaborators that included David Sylvian, David Byrne, Thomas Dolby, Nam June Paik, and Iggy Pop, among others. Sakamoto would alternate between exploring a variety of musical styles, ideas, and genres — captured most notably in his groundbreaking 1983 album Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia — and focusing on a specific subject or theme, such as the Italian Futurism movement in Futurista (1986). At times, Sakamoto would also present varying interpretations of technology's intersection with music: He would present some pieces, such as "Replica," with Kraftwerkian rigidity and order, while he would infuse humanity and humor into others — "Broadway Boogie Woogie," for example, liberally lifts samples from Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner and pairs them with a raucous, sax-driven techno-pop backdrop.
As his solo career began to extend outside Japan in the late 1980s, Sakamoto's explorations, influences, and collaborators followed suit. Beauty (1989) boasted a tracklist that combined pop and traditional Japanese and Okinawan songs, yet featured guest appearances by Jill Jones, Brian Wilson, and Robbie Robertson. Heartbeat (1991) and Sweet Revenge (1994), meanwhile, looked to international horizons and worked with a global range of artists such as Roddy Frame, Dee Dee Brave, Marco Prince, Arto Lindsay, Youssou N'Dour, David Sylvian, and Ingrid Chavez. 1996 saw the appearance of two notable albums: Smoochy, which fused pop and electronica with bossa nova and other South American forms, and 1996, which featured a number of previously released pieces arranged for solo piano, accompanied with violin and cello.
Following 1996, Sakamoto simultaneously delved into the classical and "post-techno" genres with Discord (1998), an hour-long orchestral work in four parts. Here he evoked the melodic qualities of his film score work, imbued with the influence of 20th century classical composers and spoken word. The Sony Classical release also featured an interactive CD-ROM component and website that complemented the work. Shortly thereafter, the Ninja Tune record label released a series of remixes of various sections, produced by a number of prominent electronica artists, including Amon Tobin, Talvin Singh and DJ Spooky.
The next album, BTTB (1998) — an acronym for "Back to the Basics" — was a fairly opaque reaction to the prior year's multilayered, lushly orchestrated Discord. The album comprised a series of original pieces on solo piano, including "Energy Flow" (a major hit in Japan) and a frenetic, four-hand arrangement of the Yellow Magic Orchestra classic "Tong Poo." On the BTTB U.S. tour, he opened the show performing a brief avant-garde DJ set under the stage name DJ Lovegroove.
1999 saw the long-awaited release of Sakamoto's "opera" LIFE. It premiered with seven sold-out performances in Tokyo and Osaka. This ambitious multi-genre multi-media project featured contributions by over 100 performers, including Pina Bausch, Bernardo Bertolucci, Josep Carreras, His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Salman Rushdie.
Sakamoto later teamed with cellist Jaques Morelenbaum (a member of his 1996 trio), and Morelenbaum's wife, Paula, on a pair of albums celebrating the work of bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim. They recorded their first album, Casa (2001), mostly in Jobim's home studio in Rio de Janeiro, with Sakamoto performing on the late Jobim's grand piano. The album was well received, having been included in the list of New York Times's top albums of 2002.
Sakamoto collaborated with Alva Noto (an alias of Carsten Nicolai) to release Vrioon, an album of Sakamoto's piano clusters treated by Nicolai's unique style of digital manipulation, involving the creation of "micro-loops" and minimal percussion. The two produced this work by passing the pieces back and forth until both were satisfied with the result. This debut, released on German label Raster-Noton, was voted record of the year 2004 in the electronica category by British magazine The Wire. They later released Insen (2005) — while produced in a similar manner to Vrioon, this album is somewhat more restrained and minimalist.
Meanwhile, Sakamoto continues to craft music to suit any context: In 2005, Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia hired Sakamoto to compose ring and alert tones for their high-end phone, the Nokia 8800. A recent reunion with YMO pals Hosono and Takahashi also caused a stir in the Japanese press. They released a single "Rescue" in 2007 and a DVD "HAS/YMO" in 2008.
Sakamoto's latest album, Out Of Noise, was released on March 4, 2009 in Japan.
In July 2009 Sakamoto was honored as Officier of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres at the French Embassy in Tokyo.
Film composer and actor
Moviegoers may recognize Sakamoto primarily through his score work on two films: Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), including the duet "Forbidden Colours" with David Sylvian, and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987), the latter of which earned him the Academy Award with fellow composers David Byrne and Cong Su. In that same year he composed the score to the cult-classic anime: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.
Frequent collaborator David Sylvian contributed lead vocals to "Forbidden Colours" - the main theme to Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - which became a minor hit. Sixteen years later, the piece resurfaced as a popular dance track called "Heart of Asia" (by the group Watergate).
Other films scored by Sakamoto include Pedro Almodóvar's Tacones lejanos (1992); Bertolucci's The Little Buddha (1993); Oliver Stone's Wild Palms (1993); John Maybury's Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998); Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes (1998) and Femme Fatale (2002), and Oshima's Gohatto (1999). He also composed the score of the opening ceremony for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, telecast live to an audience of over a billion viewers.
Several tracks from Sakamoto's earlier solo albums have also appeared in film soundtracks. In particular, variations of "Chinsagu No Hana" (from Beauty) and "Bibo No Aozora" (from 1996) provide the poignant closing pieces for Sue Brooks's Japanese Story (2003) and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel (2006), respectively.
Sakamoto has also acted in several films: perhaps his most notable performance was as the conflicted Captain Yonoi in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, alongside Takeshi Kitano and British rock singer David Bowie. He also played small roles in The Last Emperor and Madonna's "Rain" music video.
The music video for "Risky", written and directed by Meiert Avis, won the first ever MTV "Breakthrough Video Award". The ground breaking video explores transhumanist philosopher FM-2030's (Persian: فریدون اسفندیاری) ideas of "Nostalgia for the Future", in the form of an imagined love affair between a robot and one of Man Ray's models in Paris in the late 1930s. Additional inspiration was drawn from Jean Baudrillard, Edvard Munch's 1894 painting "Puberty", and Roland Barthes " Death of the Author". The surrealist black and white video uses stop motion, light painting, and other retro in-camera effects techniques. Meiert Avis shot Sakamoto while at work on the score for "The Last Emperor" in London. Sakamoto also appears in the video painting words and messages to an open shutter camera. Iggy Pop, who performs the vocals on "Risky", chose not to appear in the video, allowing his performance space to be occupied by the surrealist era robot.
Original studio albums
Several albums exist in 2 versions, the original Japanese version and the international version, each having differences in tracklistings.
- Thousand Knives (1978)
- Tokyo Joe (1978, with Kazumi Watanabe, more a compilation than a proper album, featuring an odd mix of tracks from Thousand Knives and from the eponymous album by Watanabe's short lived Kylyn band)
- Summer Nerves (1979, with The Kakutogi Session)
- B2-Unit (1980)
- Left-Handed Dream (1981) (Tracklistings differ between Japanese and international issues)
- The Arrangement (1981, with Robin Scott) (originally released as an EP, later expended into a full album containing the complete sessions)
- The End of Asia (1982, with Danceries)
- Ongakuzukan (1984) with the single Replica (the international release from 1986 is titled Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia, and has a different tracklisting)
- Esperanto (1985)
- Futurista (1986)
- Coda (1986)
- Neo Geo (1987)
- Playing the Orchestra (1989)
- Beauty (1990)
- Heartbeat (1991)
- Benedict Beauty (1992)
- Soundbytes (1994, compilation of tracks recorded 1981-1986)
- Sweet Revenge (1994)
- Smoochy (1995)
- 1996 (1996)
- Discord (1997)
- BTTB (1999)
- Cinemage (1999)
- Intimate (1999, with Keizo Inoue)
- L I F E (2000)
- In The Lobby
- Comica (2002)
- Elephantism (2002)
- Moto.tronic (2003, Compilation of tracks recorded between 1983 & 2003)
- Love (2003)
- Chasm (2004)
- /04 (2004)
- /05 (2005)
- Cantus omnibus unus; for mixed or equal choir (2005)
- Bricolages (2006)
- Out of Noise (2009)
- Playing the Piano (2009)
Original soundtracks and event scores
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)
- Works I - CM (released in 2002, featuring commissioned works from 1981–1984)
- Koneko Monogatari (A Kitten's Story) (1986)
- Ôritsu uchûgun Oneamisu no tsubasa - Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987)
- The Last Emperor (1987) (Won Oscar)
- Fantasy of Light and Life (1989)
- The Sheltering Sky (1990)
- The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
- Peachboy (Momotaro)
- High Heels (1992)
- Wuthering Heights (1992)
- "El Mar Mediterrani" (composition for Barcelona Olympics opening ceremony) (1992)
- Topazu / Tokyo Decadence (1992)
- Wild Palms (1993)
- Little Buddha (1993)
- Music for Yohji Yamamoto Collection 1995
- Stalker (1997)
- Snake Eyes (1998)
- Love is the devil (1998)
- Gohatto (1999)
- LOL: Lack of Love - Dreamcast Game (2000)
- Zero Landmine (2001)
- Minha Vida Como Un Filme (2002)
- Femme Fatale (2002)
- Century Of Reform
- Derrida (2002)
- Seven Samurai 20XX - PlayStation 2 game (2004)
- Shining Boy & Little Randy (2005)
- Tony Takitani (2005)
- Silk (2007)
- Indigo (Short-Film) (2008)
- Casa (2001)
- A Day in New York (2003)
With Carsten Nicolai, as alva noto + ryuichi sakamoto
- Vrioon (CD, 2002)
- Insen (CD, 2005)
- Revep (CD EP, 2006)
- Insen Live (DVD, 2006)
- Utp_ (CD+DVD, 2008, with Ensemble Modern)
- Sala Santa Cecilia (2005, live EP)
- Cendre (2007)
- David Sylvian: Brilliant Trees (1984, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano/synthesizers on 3 tracks)
- David Sylvian: Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities (1985, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano and strings on 1 track)
- David Sylvian: Secrets of the Beehive (1987, featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto on all 10 tracks)
- David van Tieghem: Safety in Numbers (1989, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on keyboards on 2 tracks)
- Hector Zazou: Sahara Blue (1992, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano on 4 tracks)
- Hector Zazou: Strong Currents (2003, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano)
- Aztec Camera: Dreamland (1993, produced with Roddy Frame)
- Holly Johnson: Love And Hate (1994), features Johnson on vocals
- Arto Lindsay: O Corpo Sutil (1996, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on 4 tracks)
- Red Hot + Rio, produced by the Red Hot Organization: É Preciso Perdoar (1996, Ryuichi Sakamoto performs keyboards for the duet sang by Cesária Évora and Caetano Veloso)
- David Sylvian: Dead Bees on a Cake (1999, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on 7 tracks)
- David Sylvian: Everything and Nothing (2000, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on 9 tracks)
- Senor Coconut: Yellow Fever (2006, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on 1 track)
- Willits + Sakamoto: Ocean Fire (2007, with Christopher Willits)
- Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses: Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses (features Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano and backing vocals)
- Rodrigo Leão: "Cinema" (features Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1 track)
Sakamoto has been married twice. His first marriage took place in 1972 but ended in divorce two years later. Sakamoto has a daughter from this relationship. Sakamoto then married popular Japanese pianist and singer Akiko Yano in 1982, having collaborated with her on some of her recordings. Yano was also a regular touring member of Yellow Magic Orchestra. They finally divorced in August 2006, 14 years after a mutual decision to live separately. They had one daughter, J-Pop singer Miu Sakamoto.
In 2006, Sakamoto, with avex Group's help, founded Commmons (コモンズ Komonzu?), a record label promising change in the way music should be. For him, Commmons is not his label, but is a platform for all aspiring artists to join as equal collaborators and share for benefits of the music industry. The word Commmons has three M's because the 3rd M stands for music.
It is distributed by Rhythm Zone, Avex's urban and R&B record label, and uses the catalog code RZCM-4****.
- Sakamoto (himself)
- Yellow Magic Orchestra
- Penguin Cafe Orchestra
- Takeshi Ueda
- Christian Fennesz
- Asa-Chang & Junray
- The official Ryūichi Sakamoto web site
- Commmons - Sakamoto's record label
- Raster-Noton site
- Fan Website
- Ustream - Live Channel for RYUICHI SAKAMOTO NORTH AMERICAN TOUR 2010