Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda


***In Memory of Ryuichi Sakamoto (1952-2023)***
Directed by Stephen Nomora Schible, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is a documentary about the life and career of the famed Japanese film composer and avant-garde musician during a period in his life as he recovers from cancer while still working on various projects. The film showcases the composer who copes with not just death but the world around him including his disdain for nuclear power as it would inspire his music. The result is a rich and intoxicating film from Stephen Nomora Schible.

Set from 2012 to 2016, the film follows Japanese musician/film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto who first gained fame for being a member of the influential electronic group Yellow Magic Orchestra with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi in the late 1970s/early 1980s as well as some solo work including composing music for films such as Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and The Last Emperor in which he also acted in and won an Oscar for the latter’s music score with David Byrne and Cong Su. Though a lot of his music that ranged from electronic, avant-garde, classical, and film work, Sakamoto also became a voice against the usage of nuclear power as the film opens with Sakamoto going to the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster a year after the events of the tsunami that lead to a reactor meltdown in one of its power plants. Two years later, Sakamoto is diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer as goes into recover splitting his time in both Tokyo and New York City where he works on the music score for The Revenant as well as an album in async that featured new interpretations of existing music including Eduard Artmeyev’s score music from Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky.

Throughout the course of the film, Stephen Nomora Schible would showcase Sakamoto in his home studios in Tokyo and New York City but also Sakamoto’s creative process where he would often compose music on a piano and write music on paper to get some ideas. He would also go to a forest where he finds a destroyed home as he would just record all sorts of audio around him to capture natural sounds as he believes that these natural sounds are musical. Even in the backyard of his Tokyo home where he would capture sounds of rainfall to get something natural for a track inspired by Solaris. Schible’s direction is largely straightforward while he does incorporate bits of archival footage from Sakamoto’s time with Yellow Magic Orchestra as well as some of his solo work including a few pieces and concerts including one in 2012 that he performed for those who lost their homes from the 2011 earthquake/tsunami.

With the help of cinematographers Tom Richmond and Neo Sora, Schible maintains a straightforward presentation without being intrusive in the camera work as he also captures Sakamoto’s routine in his medication for his cancer treatment. Even as he reveals how difficult it is to produce saliva upon swallowing a pill as he admitted that the news about his cancer was a shock to him yet he was willing to do what he can to get better while also working. Editors Yuji Ohshige and Hisayo Kushida do amazing work in not just cultivating all of the footage from the films that Sakamoto did but also in some of the rare footage of him performing a score in the studio as well as talk about the process such as creating a new intro for a score piece for The Sheltering Sky. Sound designer Tom Paul helps capture the many sound recordings that Sakamoto used for his music as well as the way an instrument sounds when he’s playing such as driving a bow on a cymbal or a gong as well as trying to get the right tone from a synthesizer.

Music supervisor John McCullough helps cultivate not just some of the music Sakamoto made with Yellow Magic Orchestra, his solo work, film scores, and various collaborations but also in the music that inspired him including some classical pieces where Sakamoto talks about a few of them. Notably how he believes that someone like Bach would approach a note and what he is probably feeling as well as how Sakamoto would interpret it and do something that makes it his own voice.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is an incredible film from Stephen Nomora Schible about the composer as he works on music for himself and for a film while battling cancer. It is a film that doesn’t give people a chance to know the man but also his own creative process and his views on the world as he deals with the remaining years of his life. In the end, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is a phenomenal film from Stephen Nomora Schible.

© thevoid99 2023


Brittani Burnham said...

I know nothing about Sakamoto but it sounds like this would be a good place to start to learn a bit about him!

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-It doesn't reveal too much about him but you might recognize some of the score work he's done as well as the films he's been in. The man is influential in the music he created. I'm just glad it was available on MUBI as I'm still saddened by his passing.

ruth said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm not too familiar w/ his work but I did listen to it on YouTube when I heard of his passing.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-You're welcome. I'm a fan of a lot of Sakamoto's score work as well as I wanted to see this as I really enjoyed this film as well as how he was able to prepare for death even though it would come years later.