Festival Film: Ryuichi Sakamoto Opus




I first clapped eyes on the intriguing Ryuichi Sakamoto in the 1983 movie Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.

Not only was he devilishly handsome, and a fine actor, he composed the beautiful music that went with Nagisa Oshima‘s grim prisoner-of-war film, starring David Bowie and Jack Thompson.



Over the decades, Sakamoto commanded an international reputation for his unique musical style. He enjoyed combining distinctive, haunting melodies with discordant chords.  Over a colourful and varied career, he collaborated with the British musician David Sylvian after first working with his band, Japan,  composed memorable scores to the likes of The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky, and much more.

He moved to New York in 1990 and once explained, “I was born in Japan but don’t think I’m Japanese.. To be a stranger. I like that attitude. I don’t like nationalities and borders.”



Sadly, Sakamoto died last year. But thankfully he has left us with a beautiful legacy. Leading up to his death, he curated and presented 20 pieces for an intimate solo film, Ryuichi Sakamoto -OPUS. He was filmed performing them in a top Toyko studio in front of a small crew, including his son, director Neo Sora. Each piece he played was performed just three times; time enough for the crew to capture every angle needed.

The film was meant to be launched with a live performance by Sakamoto, but unfortunately, by the time it was to come out, he was too ill.

I caught a preview of the film recently. Sakamoto at 71, is of course, no longer the dashing dark-haired actor who lit up the screen in 1983 and held his own with Bowie, but still looks striking at the piano.


Now white-haired, with a Warhol-esque haircut and horn-rimmed glasses, his face is both expressive and restrained as he threw himself into his last public performance, shot exquisitely in black and white, with lingering pans across the keyboards, studio and his frail but electric fingers. He barely utters a word during the entire performance. There are no interviews or revelations in this film; it’s all just about the music.

If you’re a Sakamoto fan, check out this film at Somerville, UWA, on for one night only. It’s been aptly described in the blurb as a “melancholy and achingly beautiful one-man show and the definitive swan song of a beloved maestro.” While I’m not sure it will hold the attention of everyone, it’s one for those who’ve followed his career.

Mon 19 Feb

Gates open 6pm | Film starts 8pm Lotterywest Films, UWA Somerville Auditorium, UWA, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA, 6009 / Godroo

Duration: 103mins


Watch the trailer…