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2019 9 Jan

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

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It’s hard to say why this portrait film, made by Stephen Nomura Schible, refers in its title to an album that’s 35 years old, but however, the title fits. A coda is the closing part of a symphony or suite movement or of a single piece of music, and this is — probably — what we get here. Ryuichi Sakamoto, piano wunderkind, co-founder of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, composer of countless movie scores, solo records and collaborations with numerous musicians and part-time actor, is 67 now and doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody anywhere anymore.

Sakamoto is also known as an environmental activist and uses his popularity in Japan for campaigning against nuclear power. Consequently, the film opens with pictures of the Fukushima disaster and leads to Sakamoto, discovering and playing a ruined Yamaha grand that got into the water during a tsunami. It’s still playable and sounds, let’s say: interesting. But it is captivating to watch him checking out what kind of sounds this piano can produce for him — sounds you couldn’t get from a undestroyed instrument. This again leads to Sakamoto in the studio, preparing a piano.

It is this what makes this movie worth watching: It has a lot of time to follow its subject, but it leaves it up to you to draw conclusions from it. The film has no comments, Sakamoto himself doesn’t say very much, so the film concentrates fully on what he does. Of course there are some cutbacks to old times — snippets from YMO’s „Public Pressure“ tour (with Sakamoto’s former wife, Akiko Yano, singing), his contribution to Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and some other movies (acting is not really his strong point, sorry to have to say that), some other companions he collaborated with over the years. Except some short mentions of his recent illness (in 2014, cancer of the throat was discovered, and this left some traces), the film doesn’t say much about the private Sakamoto, his family, wife, children, friends; apparently he wants to keep his private life private.

But that doesn’t do a harm. The most interesting moments in Coda are always to see this guy working in his studio (he has two, one in Tokyo and one in New York), checking out singing bowls or putting samples of nature sounds he loves to collect into compositions. Not all of his compositions are masterpieces, but Sakamoto always has an inerrant feeling whether a sound fits into a composition or not. However, it’s obvious that the piano is his main instrument, all his music is thought from there. And he has this Japanese way of hiding highly interesting or melodious stuff behind walls of scratchy or otherways unpleasant sounds which need an active listener. You can’t listen to most of Sakamoto’s music in the background.

At a reasonable price the DVD or Blu-Ray is available only in the UK; for some reason not in the US, and you have to sign to a subscription channel to watch it online. It’s also available with a live-taped presentation of his album Async. You can watch the trailer here.


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