Ryuichi Sakamoto at the piano
Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus (2023) © Bitters End
Stories & Ideas

Thu 21 Mar 2024

5 iconic Ryuichi Sakamoto film scores

Film Sound
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Four decades of musical mastery from the late great composer.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

In Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, cultural clashes and tensions arise in a Japanese POW camp between the British captives, led by Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie), and their Japanese captors, particularly the enigmatic Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto). Nagisa Ōshima's WWII drama explores themes of honour, loyalty and forbidden relationships in the face of war, and Sakamoto's score – this was his debut as both an actor and film-score composer – delicately balances mesmerising piano compositions and electronic textures to capture the emotional complexities of the film's characters.

Highlights from the soundtrack include the haunting 'Forbidden Colours' (with vocals by David Sylvian) and the titular track 'Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence'.

Watch the film and listen to Sakamoto's score on the big screen at ACMI

The Sheltering Sky (1990)

Bernardo Bertolucci's atmospheric drama The Sheltering Sky follows an American couple, Kit (Debra Winger) and Port Moresby (John Malkovich), as they travel through the harsh and mysterious landscapes of North Africa. Seeking to revitalise their strained relationship, they find themselves confronting both the exotic and complex cultures of the Sahara and their internal struggles. The fusion of traditional North African instruments and Sakamoto's modern compositions creates a sonic landscape mirroring the vastness and mystery of the desert. It's a musical tapestry that underscores the film's themes of existentialism and the unknown.

Highlights from the soundtrack include the sweeping theme song, 'On the Hill', and 'Loneliness'.

Watch the film and listen to Sakamoto's score on the big screen at ACMI

The Last Emperor (1987)

Bernardo Bertolucci's Academy Award-winning historical epic chronicles the life of Pu Yi (John Lone) from his early years as child emperor to being a political pawn under various regimes throughout China's tumultuous history.

Mirroring the grandeur and tragedy of Pu Yi's life, Sakamoto (in collaboration with post-punk star David Byrne and musicologist Cong Su) seamlessly integrates traditional Chinese instruments with his signature style, resulting in a soundtrack that echoes the film's epic scope and emotional resonance.

Highlights from the soundtrack include Sakamoto's take on the main theme (Byrne's version is also excellent), the epic 'Open the Door', and 'First Coronation'.

Watch the film and listen to Sakamoto's score on the big screen at ACMI

Babel (2006)

Weaving together multiple interconnected narratives across different countries and cultures, Alejandro Iñárritu's film explores the repercussions of a single incident: the accidental shooting of an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) in Morocco. As the story unfolds in Morocco, the United States, Japan and Mexico, themes of miscommunication, cultural divides and the human struggle for connection become central.

Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtrack, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Score, transcends cultural boundaries, fusing Japanese, Arabic, and Western musical elements. Sakamoto provided the film's enchanting, melancholic closing score 'Bibo no Aozora'.

Watch the film and listen to Sakamoto's score on the big screen at ACMI

The Revenant (2015)

In Alejandro Iñárritu's survival drama set in the 19th century American wilderness, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) embarks on a perilous journey of survival and revenge after being severely mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his hunting team. The Revenant's visceral journey through unforgiving wilderness is scored by Sakamoto (with Alva Noto who was brought in as a collaborator, as Sakamoto was still recovering from throat cancer surgery), and emphasises minimalist compositions, organic sounds and electronic textures to intensify the film's raw and elemental nature, adding a layer of immersive authenticity to the cinematic experience.

Highlights of the soundtrack include the plaintive 'Goodbye to Hawk' and 'Carrying Glass', and the wintry main theme.

Watch the film and listen to Sakamoto's score on the big screen at ACMI

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