Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra dies at 71: NPR

Ryuichi Sakamoto poses for a photo in Paris in 1996.

Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images

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Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images

Ryuichi Sakamoto poses for a photo in Paris in 1996.

Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images

Ryuichi Sakamoto, a leading composer and producer, has passed away at the age of 71.

Sakamoto passed away on March 28 after a multi-year battle with cancer, according to a statement posted on his website on Sunday. “We’d like to share one of Sakamoto’s favorite quotes,” the statement read. “Ars longa, Vita privis.” Art is a long life short.”

The Japanese composer has had an exceptionally wide-ranging career: he has been by turns a pop star, composer of both sweeping film scores and soothing, mellow sound environments, and a collaborator with artists such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Bernardo Bertolucci.

As a member of the hugely influential Japanese Yellow Magic Orchestra, and as a solo artist, he has been very into electronic pop, making songs that influenced early hip hop and techno.

Born on January 17, 1952, Sakamoto had a culturally rich childhood. His father was an editor for such post-war Japanese novelists as Kenzaburo Oe and Yukio Mishima. He started taking piano lessons when he was 6 years old, after which he started writing his own music. As a teenager, he became fascinated with the work of Claude Debussy – a composer who himself was inspired by the aesthetics of Asian music, including Japan.

As Sakamoto said Weekend Edition in 1988, “I think my music is built on a very Western system, because there’s rhythm, there’s tone, and there’s harmony. So that’s Western music. But you know, some vibes, some ambiance, a sense of sound that’s a little bit Asian, maybe 25, 30.” percent “.

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By the time Sakamoto reached university to study composition, his musical life was already following multiple paths simultaneously. At school, he was absorbing the brilliant works of the giants of European post-war modernism, such as Stockhausen, Legetti, Zenakis, and Boulez. But he also played Okinawan folk music and free jazz in his spare time, as well as combing record stores for Kraftwerk.

In 1978, he joined with multi-instrumentalist Haruomi Hosono and drummer Yukihiro Takahashi to form the Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). Sakamoto played keyboards and sang for all three members.

YMO has proven to be a formidable cultural force not only in Japan, but internationally. With its playful, sophisticated, and layered use of electronics, the band—and its members’ solo projects, including Sakamoto’s track “Riot in Lagos”—became a guiding light for the burgeoning hip-hop and techno communities.

YMO did turn Soul Train, performing their song “Computer Games”. Afrika Bambaataa sampled “Fireworks” for “Death Mix (Part Two)”. In 1993, a group of prominent ambient, house, and techno musicians paid tribute to YMO’s influence with an album called Hi tech / no offensewhich features YMO remixes from producers including The Orb, 808 State, and Orbital.


In 1983, he acted alongside David Bowie on The Merry Christmas, Mr. LawrenceDirected by Nagisa Oshima. Sakamoto also wrote the film’s score, his first. said Sakamoto in his initial meeting with Oshima Watchman In 2000, he was asked to write the film’s music – marking the beginning of a long and notable career as a film composer.

Sakamoto went on to score films as Bernardo Bertolucci The last emperor (1987) – for which he won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy, alongside composers David Byrne and Chinese composer Kong Su – plus Bertolucci protective sky in 1990, for which he also won a Golden Globe. He also wrote the scores for Pedro Almodovar High heels In 1991, Alejandro González Iñárritu Babylon in 2006 and yield in 2015, among others.

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As Sakamoto’s career matured, so did his interest in aesthetic and intellectual exploration. During the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s he collaborated with a wide range of international musicians, including Thomas Dolby, Youssou N’Dour, Iggy Pop, Jacques Morellenbaum, Karsten Nikolai (aka Alpha Noto) and a particularly frequent partner, singer-songwriter and composer Experimentalist David Sylvian. Sakamoto has also partnered with visual artists, including Baek Nam-jun and Shiro Takatani, collaborating with the latter on the 1999 multimedia opera, life.

In 2017—three years after a publicly acknowledged battle with throat cancer—Sakamoto released a lush enveloping album called asynchronous; Keep making music till the end.


In his later years, Sakamoto became an important voice in the protest against nuclear power, particularly in the aftermath of the 2011 Daiichi nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture. His public activism is a staple of the 2017 documentary, Ryuichi Sakamoto: KodaAs well as his fight against cancer.

He said in one of them, “I honestly don’t know how many years I have left.” coda Scene. It could take 20 years or 10, or a relapse might cut it down to just one year. I don’t take anything for granted. But I know I want to make more music. Music I wouldn’t be ashamed to leave behind – a meaningful work.”

Sakamoto publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with rectal cancer in January 2021. in a letter to publish On his website, he wrote, “From now on, I will live side by side with cancer. But I hope to play music for a little longer.”

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