Ryuichi Sakamoto
Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1990 | Credit: Frans Schellekens/Redferns

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Composer and Electronic Music Pioneer, Has Died at 71

Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto has passed away at the age of 71. Sakamoto’s management team confirmed his death in a statement published on social media. He died on Tuesday, 28th March. He’d been undergoing treatment for colon cancer since 2020.

“We would like to express our deepest gratitude to his fans and all those who have supported his activities,” said the statement, signed by Kab inc., Avex entertainment inc. and commmons. “In accordance with Sakamoto’s wishes, the funeral service was held among his close family members.”

Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Relâché’

Sakamoto’s managers ended the statement by quoting one of the musician’s favourite quotes: “Ars longa, vita brevis,” which translates from Latin to, “Art is long, life is short.”

Sakamoto’s time in the spotlight stretched back to the late 1970s, when he released his debut solo album, Thousand Knives. A month after its release, in November 1978, Sakamoto and his Tokyo music scene contemporaries, Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, released their self-titled debut album as Yellow Magic Orchestra.

The work of YMO, as well as Sakamoto, Hosono and Takahashi’s solo releases, profoundly impacted the development of electronic pop music. In the course of the next half-decade, YMO released the seminal albums Solid State Survivor, BGM, and Naughty Boys, and completed successful tours of Europe and the United States.

The group’s pioneering use of synthesisers, samplers and sequencers was embraced by the Japanese public, with several of their albums going to number one, including the 1980 live album, Public Pressure, which sold 250,000 copies in the band’s home country within two weeks of its release.

Yellow Magic Orchestra – ‘Day Tripper’

Amid the band’s skyrocketing popularity, the members of YMO never abandoned their solo activities. In 1983, Sakamoto composed the original score for the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Sakamoto co-starred in the film alongside David Bowie. The film’s title song, a minimal piano composition, is arguably Sakamoto’s most popular recording.

Sakamoto’s soundtrack work was unrelenting in the ensuing decades. In recent years, he composed the score for films such as The Revenant (with Alva Noto), Beckett and the Luca Guadagnino short film The Staggering Girl. He contributed to the soundtracks for Call Me By Your Name, Babel and Black Mirror, among dozens of others.

Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’

Many musicians have paid tribute to Sakamoto on social media in the wake of his death. Questlove wrote, “Thank You Ryuichi Sakamoto for your gifts. Sad to see another force leave this planet.” On Twitter, Daniel Lopatin (aka oneohtrix point never) wrote, ” thank you @ryuichisakamoto for more than I could ever explain in words, rip.”

Alva Noto, one of Sakamoto’s regular collaborators, wrote, “A void is left that I cannot fully grasp at the moment. Our deepest condolences to those who were closest to him.”

Further Reading

Yukihiro Takahashi, Yellow Magic Orchestra Dummer And Vocalist, Dies Aged 70

Fuzzy Haskins, Original Parliament-Funkadelic Member, Has Died at 81

Wayne Shorter, Saxophonist and Miles Davis Collaborator, Has Died

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