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SILK – Ryuichi Sakamoto

September 14, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

No less than nine years after winning acclaim for “The Red Violin”, director Francois Girard has finally returned to the world of cinema. His latest effort is “Silk”, based on the much-lauded book of the same name by Alessandro Barrico. The main character of the story is Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), a French silkworm merchant traveling through Japan with his wife (Keira Knightly). While in Japan, the merchant falls in love with the mistress (Sei Ashina) of a fearsome Japanese overlord (Koji Yakusho). Of course, suspicions begin to arise on both sides and unsuspected plot elements begin to unfold. It’s a rather promising set-up, but most critics were quite underwhelmed by the story, saying it lacked passion and coherent plotting. Also, the lead performance of Michael Pitt was savaged by most, as many felt he lacked the emotional skills required to play such a role.

Music for “Silk” was provided by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who is probably best-known to American audiences for his work on a pair of Brian De Palma films, “Snake Eyes” and “Femme Fatale”. Critics weren’t particularly fond of the score, either… The New York Times compared it rather unfavorably to the music of “The Red Violin”, and Roger Ebert called it “a piano score that weeps under many a scene.” While “weepy piano score” might be a fair statement, it should be noted that comparing the score to “The Red Violin” is ridiculous, as the only thing the two scores have in common are violin solos from Joshua Bell. While John Corigliano’s “Red Violin” score was an extremely ambitious and sometimes challenging musical work, Sakamoto’s score is simply content to be a pleasant and gentle mood piece.

The score is frequently quite beautiful, and at times hits remarkable high points of thematic ecstasy. However, it’s too often content to become merely “atmospheric”, piddling around in the same dreary circle until it finally is called upon to underline something more specific. The dreary atmosphere is a fairly pleasant and listenable one, but it’s frustrating having to sit through some of the more ambient sections. Some of these are so quiet and low-key that it’s easy to forget you’re listening to anything at all… fortunately, there’s usually a piece of interest no more than a few minutes around to corner to make the experience worthwhile.

Despite the fact that the story is set in Japan, and the fact that Sakamoto is a Japanese composer, the score’s Japanese influences are subtle and minimal. The approach here seems to be to underline the universal emotions of the story, rather than the specific location. Sakamoto supplies a sumptuous main theme, given a sweeping string treatment in the latter half of the opening cue, and the theme appears on a fairly regularly basis throughout the album. Sakamoto does a nice job of presenting the theme often enough to satisfy the listener, but not so often that anyone will get tired of it. Despite the presence of Joshua Bell (who doesn’t really get to do anything of interest), the key instrument in much of “Silk” is the piano. The piano is the primary instrument for no less than three of the score’s primary themes… the love theme, the sadness theme, and the mill theme. While the love and sadness themes are both attractive, they’re often performed so introspectively and slowly that the pieces centered on them occasionally feel like moody improvisational noodling. The mill theme, on the other hand, is a sublime little piece that sadly only appears rather briefly during a couple of cues.

Fans of attractive and gentle film music will probably enjoy the album, it’s a very soothing listening experience. However, it’s at least fifteen minutes longer than it needs to be… the hour-long album feels more like 90 minutes, and one or two bursts of moderate energy wouldn’t have hurt things much, either. It’s a bit of a coin toss, but I’d say the album has enough high points to make it worth a recommendation, especially to those who enjoy the gentler, more reserved efforts of composers like Mark Isham and James Horner.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Silk Opening (2:52)
  • Mill Theme (1:39)
  • Love Theme (1:20)
  • Trip to Egypt (1:13)
  • First Trip to Japan (4:01)
  • Village in Snow (5:44)
  • First Return (1:31)
  • Second Trip to Japan (2:37)
  • The Girl (3:53)
  • Second Return (2:29)
  • Love Theme II (2:28)
  • Sadness (1:44)
  • Brothel (2:17)
  • Last Trip to Japan (2:53)
  • Revolution (4:51)
  • The Last Return (4:05)
  • Building the Garden (1:53)
  • Reminiscence (2:47)
  • Helen (2:55)
  • Sadness II (3:22)
  • Silk Closing (5:23)

Running Time: 61 minutes 57 seconds

Silva Screen SILCD-1253 (2007)

Music composed and conducted by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Recorded and mixed by Fernando Aponte. Album produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

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