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Music / Ryuichi Sakamoto

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Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一 Sakamoto Ryūichi, born January 17, 1952 in Tokyo) is a prolific Japanese composer, singer, songwriter and record producer, and an anti-nuclear activist. He's also had some acting roles, and wrote some anime and video games in addition to soundtracks.

He graduated from Tokyo National University's Fine Arts & Music program with a M.A. in music composition with special emphasis on electronic and ethnic music, which would define a good chunk of his musical career. He has pursued a diverse range of styles both solo and, famously, as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra. He also collaborated with former Japan frontman David Sylvian extensively in his early solo career. Alongside YMO, Sakamoto is considered a major influence on western electro, techno, and Hip-Hop artists, with analysts labeling his 1980 song "Riot in Lagos" the Trope Maker for electro.


Acting-wise, his best known roles are without much doubt the World War II-era Captain Yonoi, who ends up extremely troubled by David Bowie as a prisoner of war in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and Masahiko Amakasu in The Last Emperor. He also composed the soundtracks for both films and plenty of others works such as the 1992 film version of Wuthering Heights, The Revenant or Black Mirror: Smithereens, as well as the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.


Studio album discography:

  • Disappointment - Hateruma (1976)
  • Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto (1978)
  • Summer Nerves (1979) (billed as featuring The Kakutougi Session, but they were simply a band he put together for the release).
  • B-2 Unit (1980)
  • Left-Handed Dream (1981)
  • Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia (1984)note 
  • Esperanto (1985)
  • Futurista (1986)
  • Neo Geo (1987)
  • Beauty (1989)
  • Heartbeat (1991)
  • Sweet Revenge (1994)
  • Smoochy (1995)
  • 1996 (1996)
  • Discord (1997)
  • BTTB (1999)
  • Comica (2002)
  • Elephantism (2002)
  • Chasm (2004)
  • Out of Noise (2009)
  • Playing the Piano (2009)
  • Three (2013)
  • async (2017)

Films scored by Sakamoto:

Tropes featured in Sakamoto's work:

  • All There in the Manual: Even though the Japanese title appears on the cover, the Japanese release of Left-Handed Dream features the English title on the inner gatefold.
  • Animated Music Video: The 2013 re-recording of "Psychedelic Afternoon" received one as part of the associated charity project, featuring David Byrne as a mystical hippie grandpa helping his grandson cope with the trauma left by the 2011 earthquake in Japan.
  • Canon Discontinuity: On Sakamoto's Spotify page, Thousand Knives is listed as an EP rather than an album despite having been billed as the latter when it first released. As such, B-2 Unit is treated as his first "proper" solo album on the platform.
  • Concept Album: Futurista is themed around the Italian Futurist movement, to the extent where "Milan 1919" is an extended lecture on the history of Futurism.
  • Cover Version: Both the Japanese and international versions of Beauty feature a cover of "We Love You" by The Rolling Stones.
  • Cut-and-Paste Translation: Hoo boy.
    • It started with B-2 Unit, which had the single "Warhead" added and "Participation Mystique" taken out on the UK version.
    • Then the UK/US version of Left Handed Dream was largely different outside Japan (featuring his work with Robin Scott), as was his later Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia, a single LP featuring half the tracks plus the two singles "Field Work" and "Steppin' into Asia".
    • In the 90s, Sakamoto reworked his albums Beauty and Heartbeat for the international market to make them more marketable— some tracks were translated from Japanese into English, and Beauty gained the single "You Do Me" and the single remix of "We Love You" but lost "Adagio", whereas Heartbeat gained two David Sylvian-sung tracks "Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki II)" and "Cloud #9" and lost the original "Tainai Kaiki". Also, Heartbeat's unique foldout sleeve was not replicated on the International Version due to being too expensive to produce.
    • Sakamoto went one further with Sweet Revenge, remixing and overdubbing the album noticeably, translating two of the songs into English and rearranging some others entirely, and cutting out "Anna" and the David Byrne collaboration "Psychedelic Afternoon". Sakamoto intended for this version of the album to be an alternative experience, and it definitely is.
  • Genre Mashup: "Paradise Lost" combines Japanese traditional music and reggae, made on a Fairlight synth computer, and even featuring steel drums.
  • Genre Roulette: He frequently did albums in different genres, but in terms of an album where that is the case, he really went for it on "Heartbeat", as its theme is that it features musical genres from around the world in multiple languages.
  • In the Style of...: The Title Track of Thousand Knives was envisioned as a homage to the reggae-jazz style of Herbie Hancock.
  • Lighter and Softer: His soundtrack to "The Adventures Of Chatran" is incredibly relaxing, as suits the mood of the movie it was made for.
  • Live Album: Several, with "Media Bahn Live" being his first.
  • List Song: "G.T." and its remixed version, "G.T. II°", features a text-to-speech chorus listing the planets in the solar system (as recognized in 1986), conspicuously skipping over Earth and tying into the verses' use of space travel as a metaphor for love.
  • Machine Monotone: Sakamoto used an early text to speech voice on the Futurista track "Milan 1909", which certainly has this effect. It is paired with disconcertingly uncomfortable music, which goes on for over a minute before the voice comes in. This was over a decade before Radiohead were noted for doing the same thing on "Fitter Happier".
  • Market-Based Title: The movie Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence was renamed Furyo in Europe; the soundtrack album was consequently renamed there to match.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • Sakamoto's solo compositions "Thousand Knives", "The End of Asia", and "Happy End" were reworked with Yellow Magic Orchestra in the early '80s. In the same vein, YMO's "Behind the Mask" was based on a jingle Sakamoto wrote for a watch commercial, and Sakamoto would in turn rearrange the song as a solo single in 1987, based on a Cover Version by Michael Jackson that went unreleased until 2010.
    • Futurista features "G.T. II°", a remixed version of the non-album single "G.T." with heavier percussion and samples from "Legs" by Art of Noise.
    • In 2013, Sakamoto and David Byrne re-recorded their 1994 collaboration "Psychedelic Afternoon", with redone lyrics and Byrne taking up vocal duties this time, as part of a project to raise awareness and funds for children impacted by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Title Track of Thousand Knives opens with Sakamoto reciting the Mao Zedong poem "Jinggang Mountain", in the original Mandarin, through a vocoder.
    • "Tribute to N.J.P." is, as the name implies, an extended nod to the work of Korean video artist and jazz pianist Nam June Paik, who'd previously collaborated with Sakamoto.
  • Special Guest: Several of Sakamoto's solo albums feature collaborations with well-known western musicians, usually to try and make his work easier to market outside of Japan; many of them were even released as singles. On the flipside, Sakamoto has frequently done session work for other notable western musicians over the years, from mutual collaborator David Sylvian to avant-garde Post-Punk collective Public Image Ltd..
  • Spell My Name with an "S": A number of early '80s releases Romanized his given name as "Riuichi" instead of "Ryuichi," despite the latter having been used since his debut album. The "Ryuichi" spelling would eventually become standard with the release of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence in 1983, which credited him as "Ryuichi Sakamoto" for audiences around the world to see.
  • Updated Re-release: The 1990 CD of "The Arrangement" added the A and B-sides of two singles released shortly before the EP (and consequently making it as long as a proper studio album), these being "War Head"/"Lexington Queen" and "Front Line"/"Happy End". The bonus tracks are removed on the 2015 CD.