Fans mourn legendary Japanese musician

2023-04-04 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Oscar-winning Japanese composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto died of cancer on March 28 at the age of 71, Japanese recording company Avex announced in a statement on its website on Sunday.

"While undergoing treatment for cancer diagnosed in June 2020, Sakamoto continued to create works in his home studio whenever his health would allow. He lived with music until his final days," said the statement, which also quoted Sakamoto's favorite Latin phrase, "Ars longa, vita brevis(Art is long, life is short)".

His funeral was held in the presence of family and close friends, the statement added.

Born in Tokyo in 1952, Sakamoto was introduced to the piano as a toddler, and he went on to study at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He was always drawn to ambient sounds. As a high schooler in Tokyo, Sakamoto had to ride a commuter train every morning to attend classes. He amused himself by listening to the sounds the train made.

In 1978, he co-founded the pioneering techno-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra with Japanese musicians Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi.

Less than a decade later, Sakamoto became the first Japanese composer to win the Academy Award for best original score for the 1987 movie The Last Emperor, directed by Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci.

Before his Oscar glory, he appeared in Japanese director Nagisa Oshima's 1983 film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, alongside British rock legend David Bowie. Sakamoto also composed the film's music, which won him a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award. He received two Golden Globes for scoring The Last Emperor and yet another Bertolucci film, The Sheltering Sky (1990).

In 1992, Sakamoto composed music for the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Summer Olympics and spent the rest of the decade prolifically making music.

In 2014, he was forced to take the first significant break in his career due to throat cancer. A little more than a year later, he announced that he had recovered. However, he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2020.

On Jan 17 this year, his 71st birthday, Sakamoto released his final album, 12, the first non-soundtrack solo studio album from the composer since Asyncin 2017.

The death of the pioneering Japanese composer has left the music and film industry and fans across the globe shocked.

"I'm just shocked and too sad to speak a word," said Japanese actor-director Takeshi Kitano, who co-starred with Sakamoto in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

Japanese musician, songwriter and record producer Tetsuya Komuro sent a handwritten note to Sakamoto expressing his admiration. "As a musician, you showed me a dream. And I feel that you taught me about the role that musicians can play in the world. Thank you," Komuro wrote.

Sakamoto has a large fan base in China. Fellow musicians and fans paid their tributes on various social media platforms.

"I love Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, which deeply touched me. ... It (the music) was unquestionably my favorite," a fan wrote on Sina Weibo. "Thank you for bringing such beautiful music to this world. You will be missed forever."

China's condolences

Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, expressed on Monday condolences over the passing away of Sakamoto and extended sympathy to his family. Sakamoto's musical works, which feature rich cultural connotations, have touched many people's hearts, Mao said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Sakamoto, who had created a number of excellent musical works with Chinese cultural elements, had contributed with his own action to the friendship and exchanges between China and Japan, Mao added.

"State-to-state relations thrive when there is friendship between the peoples," she said, expressing her hope that more people in China and Japan will further contribute to friendly exchanges between the two countries.

On Monday, Youku — one of China's major video-streaming platforms — offered a free screening of director Stephen Nomura Schible's 2017 documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, which looks at Sakamoto's pioneering music career and his battle with throat cancer.

In 1996, Sakamoto performed in Beijing as part of his world tour to promote his album 1996. In December 2018, invited by Chinese music critic and DJ Zhang Youdai, Sakamoto gave an impromptu performance at Zhang's Cloud Nine live bar in Beijing, alongside Chinese musicians, including pianist Xiao Ying and singer-songwriter Zhu Zheqin.

According to Zhang, who is also a radio host, his friendship with Sakamoto dates to 1996, when he watched him perform live at a music festival in Denmark. "The same year, Sakamoto performed in Beijing and I interviewed him. We stayed in touch via fax for years, and he introduced me as 'the first Chinese man to fax me'," Zhang recalled.

On Feb 29, 2020, Sakamoto gave an online charity performance from his home in New York, which received warm feedback from his Chinese fans, especially when Sakamoto used a cymbal with a label in Chinese that read "Made in Wuhan".

"I have several musical instruments (that were) made in Wuhan and they are of high quality," he said. "I don't think music can cure people, but I believe that music keeps you company, especially when you are struggling with your life. Music can soothe an anxious mood."


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