Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一 Sakamoto Ryūichi?, born January 17, 1952) (Japanese pronunciation: [sakamoto ɽju͍ːitɕi]) is a Japanese musician, activist, composer, record producer, writer, singer, pianist, and actor, based in Tokyo and New York. He began his career in 1978 as a member of the pioneering electronic music group Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), where he played keyboards and was an occasional vocalist. The band was an international success, with worldwide hits such as "Computer Game / Firecracker" (1978) and "Behind the Mask" (1978), the latter written and sung by Sakamoto.
He concurrently began pursuing a solo career, debuting with the experimental electronic fusion album The Thousand Knives of Ryūichi Sakamoto (1978), and later released the pioneering album B-2 Unit (1980), which included the electro classic "Riot in Lagos". After YMO disbanded in 1983, he produced more solo records, including collaborations with various international artists, through to the 1990s.
He began acting and composing for film with Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), which he starred in and composed the score for; the song "Forbidden Colours" which he composed for it became a worldwide hit, and he won a BAFTA Award for the film's score. He later won an Academy Award and Grammy Award for scoring The Last Emperor (1987), and has also won two Golden Globe Awards for his work as a film composer. In addition, he also composed music for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics opening ceremony.
In the early 1990s, he briefly reunited with YMO, playing an instrumental role in the techno and acid house movements of the era, before parting ways again shortly afterwards. His 1999 musical composition "Energy Flow", also known as the alternative title of the single disc Ura BTTB, was the first number-one instrumental single in Japan's Oricon charts history.
He has also occasionally worked on anime and video games, as a composer as well as a scenario writer. In the late 2000s, he reunited once again with YMO, while continuing to compose film music. In 2009, he was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France's Ministry of Culture for his musical contributions.
- 2 Awards
- 3 Discography
- 4 Commmons
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Sakamoto entered the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1970, earning a B.A. in music composition and an M.A. with special emphasis on both electronic and ethnic music. He studied ethnomusicology there with the intention of becoming a researcher in the field, due to his interest in various world music traditions, particularly the Japanese (especiallyOkinawan), Indian and African musical traditions. He was also trained in classical music and began experimenting with the electronic music equipment available at the university, including synthesizers such as the Buchla, Moog, and ARP. One of Sakamoto's classical influences was Claude Debussy, who he described as his "hero" and stated that “Asian music heavily influenced Debussy, and Debussy heavily influenced me. So, the music goes around the world and comes full circle.”
After working as a session musician with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi in 1977, the trio formed the internationally successful electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) in 1978. Known for their seminal influence on electronic music, the group helped pioneer electronic genres such as electropop/technopop, synthpop, cyberpunk music, ambient house, and electronica. The group's work has had a lasting influence across genres ranging from hip hop and techno to acid house and general melodic music.
Sakamoto was the songwriter and composer for a number of the band's hit songs, including "Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)" (1978), "Technopolis" (1979), "Nice Age" (1980), "Ongaku" (1983), and "You've Got to Help Yourself" (1983), while playing the keyboards for many of their other songs, including international hits such as "Computer Game / Firecracker" (1978) and "Rydeen" (1979), and singing in several songs such as "Kimi ni Mune Kyun" (1983). He also wrote "Technopolis" (1979), which contributed to the development of techno, and the international hit "Behind the Mask" (1978), a synthpop song for which he sang the vocals through a vocoder and which would later be covered by a number of international artists, including Michael Jackson and Eric Clapton.
Sakamoto released his first solo album in mid-1978, Thousand Knives of Ryūichi Sakamoto, with the help of Hideki Matsutake, who would later be the "fourth member" of Yellow Magic Orchestra, and with the band's founding memberHaruomi Hosono also contributing to the song "Thousand Knives". The album experimented with different styles, such as "Thousand Knives" and "The End of Asia" fusing electronic music with traditional Japanese music, while "Grasshoppers" was a more minimalistic piano song. The album was recorded from April to July in 1978 using a variety of electronic equipment, including various synthesizers such as the KORG PS-3100 polyphonic synthesizer,Oberheim Eight-Voice, Moog III-C, Polymoog, Minimoog, and Micromoog, as well as the Korg VC-10 vocoder, KORG SQ-10 analog sequencer, and Syn-Drums electronic drum kit. It was also the earliest known record to utilize themicroprocessor-based Roland MC-8 Microcomposer music sequencer, which was programmed by Matsutake. Sakamoto would later remix his song "Thousand Knives" using the Roland TR-808 drum machine as "1000 Knives" for his band's album BGM (1981). His song "Grasshoppers" would also later be sampled in Ghostface Killah's "Baby" (2009).
|Ryuichi Sakamoto - "Riot in Lagos" (1980)MENU 0:00 A sample of "Riot in Lagos" from Ryuichi Sakamoto's 1980 album B-2 Unit. This track is credited for having anticipated the beats and sounds of electro music.----|
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In 1980, he released the solo album B-2 Unit, which is considered to be his "edgiest" record. It is known for the electronic classic "Riot in Lagos", which is considered an early example of electro music (electro-funk), for having anticipated the beats and sounds of electro. Ryuichi Sakamoto, particularly his song "Riot in Lagos", had an influence on early electro and hip hop artists such as Afrika Bambaata, and was cited by Kurtis Mantronik as a major influence on his electro hip hop group Mantronix. The song was later included in Playgroup's compilation album Kings of Electro (2007), alongside later electro classics such as Hashim's "Al-Nafyish" (1983). According to Dusted Magazine, Sakamoto's use of squelching bounce sounds and mechanical beats was later incorporated in early electro and hip hop music productions such as “Message II (Survival)” (1982) by Melle Mel and Duke Bootee, “Magic’s Wand” (1982) by Whodini and Thomas Dolby, Twilight 22’s “Electric Kingdom” (1983), and Kurt Mantronik's Mantronix: The Album (1985). The 1980 release of "Riot in Lagos" was listed by The Guardian in 2011 as one of the 50 key events in the history of dance music.
Also in 1980, Sakamoto released the single "War Head / Lexington Queen", an experimental synthpop and electro record. That same year, Sakamoto began a long-standing collaboration with David Sylvian when he co-wrote and performed on the Japan track "Taking Islands In Africa". In 1982, Sakamoto worked on another collaboration with Sylvian, a single entitled "Bamboo Houses/Bamboo Music". That same year, his collaboration with Kiyoshiro Imawano, "Ikenai Rouge Magic", topped the Oricon singles chart. In 1983, he produced Mari Iijima's debut album Rose.
Following the disbanding of Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1983, Sakamoto released a number of solo albums during 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, Robert Wyatt, 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, includingPina 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.
|Ryuichi Sakamoto - "Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence" (1983)MENU 0:00 A sample of "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" from the 1983 film of the same name. It won him a BAFTA, was the basis for his hit song "Forbidden Colours", and has had a number ofcover versions produced by other artists.----|
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Moviegoers may recognize Sakamoto primarily through his score work on two films: Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), including the title theme and 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 Byrneand Cong Su. In that same year he composed the score to the cult-classic anime film 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 (High Heels) (1991), 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), Oshima's Gohatto (1999), and Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat (2011). He also composed the score of the opening ceremony for the 1992 Summer Olympics 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 roles in The Last Emperor (as Masahiko Amakasu) and Madonna's "Rain" music video.
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.
He is also known as a critic of copyright law, arguing that it is antiquated in the information age. He argued that in "the last 100 years, only a few organisations have dominated the music world and ripped off both fans and creators" and that "with the internet we are going back to having tribal attitudes towards music."
Sakamoto is a member of the anti-nuclear organization Stop Rokkasho and has demanded the closing of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant. In 2012, he organized the "No Nukes 2012" concert, which featured performances by 18 groups, including Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kraftwerk.
Ryuichi Sakamoto has won a number of awards for his work as a film composer, beginning with his score for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) winning him the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. His greatest award success was for scoring The Last Emperor (1987), which won him the Academy Award for Best Original Score, Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, and Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, as well as a BAFTA nomination.
His score for The Sheltering Sky (1990) later won him his second Golden Globe Award, and his score for Little Buddha (1993) received another Grammy Award nomination. In 1997, his collaboration with Toshio Iwai, Music Plays Images X Images Play Music, was awarded the Golden Nica, the grand prize of the Prix Ars Electronica competition. He also contributed to the Academy Award winning soundtrack for Babel (2006) with several pieces of music, including the "Bibo no Aozora" closing theme. In 2009, he was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France's Ministry of Culture for his musical contributions.
The music video for "Risky", written and directed by Meiert Avis, also 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.
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 (1982, 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)
- Undo #1 (1989)
- Beauty (1989)
- 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)
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) (Won BAFTA)
- Works I – CM (released in 2002, featuring commissioned works from 1981–1984)
- Koneko Monogatari (A Kitten's Story) (1986)
- Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (Ôritsu uchûgun Oneamisu no tsubasa) (1987)
- The Last Emperor (1987) (Won Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe)
- Fantasy of Light and Life (1989)
- Black Rain (1989) – featuring his song "Laserman"
- Tengai Makyo Ziria (1989) – video game
- The Sheltering Sky (1990) (Won Golden Globe)
- 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)
- Dreamcast (1998) – start-up sound for video game console
- Gohatto (1999)
- Poppoya (Main theme) (1999)
- L.O.L.: Lack of Love – Dreamcast video game (2000), for which he was also the scenario writer
- Zero Landmine (2001)
- Minha Vida Como Un Filme (2002)
- Femme Fatale (2002)
- Century Of Reform (2002)
- Derrida (2002)
- Japanese Story (2003) – featuring "Chinsagu No Hana" (from Beauty)
- Seven Samurai 20XX – PlayStation 2 video game (2004)
- Shining Boy & Little Randy (2005)
- Tony Takitani (2005)
- Babel (2006) – featuring "Bibo No Aozora" (from 1996)
- Dawn of Mana (2006) – PlayStation 2 video game
- Silk (2007)
- Indigo (Short-Film) (2008)
- Women Without Men (2009)
- Dhobi Ghat (India) (2011)
- Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011)
- Casa (2001)
- A Day in New York (2003)
- Vrioon (CD, 2002)
- Insen (CD, 2005)
- Revep (CD EP, 2006)
- Insen Live (DVD, 2006)
- Utp_ (CD+DVD, 2008, with Ensemble Modern)
- Summvs (CD, 2011)
- Geisha Girls
- Japan: Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980, features Ryuichi Sakamoto as co-writer of the track Taking Islands In Africa)
- Mari Iijima: Rose (1983, produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto)
- 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)
- Thomas Dolby: Fieldwork (1985, written by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Thomas Dolby, featuring Thomas Dolby on vocals)
- Yukiko Okada: "Kuchibiru Network" (1986, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, written by Seiko Matsuda)
- 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 sung 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)
- M-Flo: Astromantic (2004, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on 1 track)
- Senor Coconut: Yellow Fever! (2006, features Ryuichi Sakamoto on 1 track)
- Willits + Sakamoto: Ocean Fire (2007, with Christopher Willits)
- Willits + Sakamoto: Ancient Future (2012, with Christopher Willits)
- Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses: Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses (features Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano and backing vocals)
- Ayuo: Memory Theatre (features Ryuichi Sakamoto on two tracks)
- Rodrigo Leão: "Cinema" (features Ryuichi Sakamoto on 1 track)
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.