Film

Recommended Viewings: Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Continuing our Recommended Viewings series with MUBI, we present Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda. An intimate portrait celebrating Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Sakamoto is probably best known for pioneering electronic music in the late 70s and 80s as both a solo artist and as a member of electropop band Yellow Magic Orchestra. He also composed the Oscar-winning score for the film The Last Emperor (1987). Some of his other notable film scores include: The Sheltering Sky (1990), Little Buddha (1993), and The Revenant (2015).

Sakamoto was diagnosed with throat cancer in June of 2014. He went into remission but sadly was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2021. He passed away last year at the age of 71.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda was directed by Stephen Nomura Schible and released in 2017. The film touches on Sakamoto’s response to the Fukushima nuclear accident and 9/11. While these historical events may feel removed from the conflicts and crises we are currently facing today, Sakamoto’s engagement with the world around him translates. And how he navigates these upheavals as an artist, even more so.

Sakamoto’s relationship with technology feels particularly timely. From the 80s right up until his death, Sakamoto is enamored with the possibilities yet cautious of the implications. He appears both forward looking and deeply nostalgic. Or perhaps, simply of the present — in line with the inherent tension of being caught between the past and future — and dabbling in the richness of both.

Archive footage, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)
Archive footage, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

In archival footage taken from the 80s Sakamoto is captured saying: “I’m not saying ‘Return to Nature, to pre-modern times.’ I’m not interested in going against the current. I’m interested in the erosion of technology, such as errors or noises.” Years later he is seen revelling in the sound of a piano un-tuned by the destruction of the Tōhoku tsunami. Referring to it almost endearingly as the “tsunami piano,” he goes so far as to say he prefers the sound of matter “struggling to return to a natural state” opposed to that which is tuned strictly to please our ears.

 

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

It’s moments like these that stand out as poignant and prescient. He was prolific in his work and varied in his interests. But you do not need to be a fan of Sakamoto’s music to appreciate the way he conducts himself as a person. He was an outspoken anti-nuclear activist and environmentalist particularly affected by the evidence of climate change. There is something to appreciate simply in the pace of his life. He is thoughtful and considered in his speech. He cares deeply about his own work but also about the world around him. A world he remained curious about.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

One of the most memorable scenes in the film is of Sakamoto attempting to capture the sound of things. At one point he records the sound of rain falling in the courtyard of his home. The seriousness with which he contemplates the deficiencies of the vessel being used is mixed with the child-like nature of the experiment itself. When was the last time you stopped to listen to the rain?

This is a portrait of an artist and a level of artistry that we don’t see much anymore. And watching it now, after his passing, feels even more important. The more you watch the more you become attuned to his world. The more you start to see its connection to our own.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

The film is about the creation of art and the work of it. The passion but also the pure dedication required. The older you get the more things don’t flow as easily as they used to — the more life events, globally or personally, get in the way — you have to put the time in. The question is: where and how will we invest the time we have left?

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is now streaming on MUBI. Get 30 days free to watch it and hundreds more hand-picked films on MUBI at mubi.com/booooooom.

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