FEATURE RYUICHI SAKAMOTO
Renowned as a composer and performer, RYUICHI SAKAMOTO’s diverse talents bring him to Edinburgh for a live concert, the launch of a new album and a day-long tribute to his ﬁlm work. Somehow he manages to ﬁt Alan Morrison into his busy schedule.
L 10 The List 26 August—8 September I994
mpteen film soundtracks and solo albums; countless credits as producer and arranger for other artists; actor in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and The Last Emperor. By any standards. Ryuichi Sakamoto knows how to squeeze the most out of the hours in a day. But add his turns as conductor and composer of the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Paralympics. as writer of a couple of dialogues with philosophers (under his own publishing company) and as a pretty face in Madonna‘s ‘Rain‘ video. and you begin to believe in the Japanese work ethic stereotype.
Born in Tokyo in 1952 to an editor father and hat designer mother. Sakamoto was something of a musical child prodigy who studied at his home city‘s University of Art from an early age. When still in his teens. he came to national attention for his contempo- rary classical compositions while. on a personal level. absorbing inﬂuences that ranged from The Beatles to Beethoven. from John Cage to Jean- Luc Godard.
‘I had a very normal. very standard classical musical training from the age of four.‘ he recounts. ‘and I started studying composition when l was eleven. In high school. I was doing avant-garde jazz alongside more easy-goinO. standard jazz and bossa nova. while at the same time getting involved in so-called ()()s multi- media events by the musical sons of John Cage — composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich. But when I entered university. that was the ﬁrst time I saw a synthesiser. although I was also studying ethnic music of all kinds. from all areas. So. basically. I was into everything and doing all things.’
‘Techno has changed over those ten years. Then, it was more pop; now, it is
more abstract. I think this new YMO was in between then and now.’
As a graduate at the University in 1974. his specialisation in electronic and ethnic music brought together two areas that might seem mutually incompatible. Nevertheless. elements of both can be clearly heard in the haunting main theme of Merry Christmas. Mr Lawrence. Sakamoto‘s first film score. written for Nagisa Oshima in 1983. and in his subsequent work for Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. It is in the Bertolucci scores — The Last Emperor (1987). The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1994) — that these twin influences blend most completely with a third ingredient: lush Western orchestrations that rely heavily on smooth string arrangements to underline the panoramic romance of the stories and the breath- taking beauty of Vittorio Storaro‘s cinematography.
Sakamoto has written other soundtracks over the past decade - Volker Schlondorff's The Handmaid 's Tale ( l 990). Pedro Almodovar‘s High Heels ( l 991 ). Peter
Kosminsky’s Emily Bronte ’s Wuthering Heights (1992) and Oliver Stone‘s Wild Palms (1993) — but the three Bertolucci scores have brought him the greatest critical acclaim. including Golden Globes for The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky and an Oscar for the former. North African chants. traditional Indian percussion and Chinese woodwind all lay down the appropriate local roots around which Sakamoto can weave his accessible melodies. While keeping a keen ear for ethnic sounds. he has also kept a boyish eye on technological advances. and the period of composition is more likely to ﬁnd him surrounded by hi-tech hardware than primitive instruments.
‘Sometimes I have written tunes in a taxi or on an aeroplane.‘ he admits. ‘but to write particular