Home > News > Ryuichi Sakamoto, 1952-2023

Ryuichi Sakamoto, 1952-2023

Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto died on March 28, 2023, in hospital in Tokyo, after a long battle with cancer. He was 71.

Sakamoto was born in Tokyo, Japan, in January 1952. He studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, 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 (especially Okinawan), Indian and African musical traditions.

Sakamoto began his musical career while at university as a session musician, producer, and arranger. His first major success came in 1978 as co-founder of Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), and with bandmates Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, Sakamoto influenced and pioneered a number of electronic music genres. He concurrently pursued a solo career, releasing the experimental electronic fusion album Thousand Knives in 1978, and then the influential B-2 Unit in 1980.

Sakamoto began working in films, as a composer and actor, in Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence in 1983. Sakamoto won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music for his score – which was hugely popular in the UK. Then in 1987 Sakamoto wrote the score for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor with fellow composers David Byrne and Cong Su, and won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, and a Grammy.

Sakamoto went on to enjoy a massive successful career in film; his subsequent work included Wings of Honnêamise (1987), The Sheltering Sky (1990, Golden Globe winner), The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), High Heels (1992) for director Pedro Almodóvar, Wuthering Heights (1992), Little Buddha (1993, Golden Globe and Grammy nominee), Snake Eyes (1998) for director Brian de Palma, Femme Fatale (2002) also for de Palma, Silk (2007), and The Revenant (2015, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominee), among many others,

In addition to his film work, Sakamoto continued to release albums of instrumental and classical music, collaborated with artists as diverse as David Sylvian, Carsten Nicolai, Youssou N’Dour, and Fennesz, and wrote the score of the opening ceremony for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, which was performed live to an audience of over a billion viewers.

In 2009, he was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the Ministry of Culture of France for his contributions to music. Sakamoto was married three times, including to popular Japanese pianist and singer Akiko Yano, with whom he had a daughter, J-pop singer Miu Sakamoto. Sakamoto had suffered with various different forms of cancer for many years prior to his death; he was originally diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer in 2014, and was then diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2021.

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  1. Tangamaki Kakino (sonny)
    April 8, 2023 at 5:49 am

    My husband had the pleasure of meeting him(Ryuichi Sakamoto) on the film set of “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence “, in 1982 during production of the movie,…..recalls he had a great time on the production set in the Rarotongan, Cook island mountain valleys.

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