JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (Featured artist: Ryuichi Sakamoto) - September 17, 2018
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Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

5 5
100 min.

Reviewed for the 2018 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.
‘Music that I won’t be ashamed to leave behind’

It is a very rare occurrence indeed when I immediately feel a sense of camaraderie, closeness and like-mindedness when “meeting” a musician rather than only hearing their work. From the opening frames of Stephen Schible’s loving, thoughtful portrait of this extraordinary artist, the connection was immediate.

Only later did I learn that we share the same birth year and careers that have travelled down many disparate paths. Love of incorporating natural sounds into scores (taking some of Olivier Messiaen’s notions many steps further) and—almost note for note—adding percussive effects by using equally natural “found” garbage, demonstrated similar approaches to our most universal art.

Perhaps the greatest “find” of all being the incredibly still playable grand piano salvaged after the Fukushima and environs’ devastating earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster and choosing to leave it in its natural state rather than refurbishing it. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s quiet explanation: “[Today’s] grand pianos are forced into shape; the tsunami’s force put [this] piano back to Nature.”

The composer of many film scores (notably the multi-textured The Last Emperor and the eerie string moments of The Revenant), Sakamoto clearly understands that it is his job to realize the vision of the filmmaker rather than exclusively offer his singular point view.

Like the man himself, the composer’s concert music, employing germs of ideas and sounds, at times in the minimalist tradition of Philip Glass, and deftly mixing acoustic instruments with all manner of sounds captured outdoors or—marvellously—underwater in an arctic fishing hole (“I am fishing for sounds”) are expertly coloured and balanced, happily embracing present-day computer technology as required.

Sakamoto’s deep, reverential love and respect of Johann Sebastian Bach—especially the German master’s chorales—is apparent in his own, deceptively simple, humble and soothing lines that move steadily forward to fulfilling conclusions with a similar sense of inevitably.

Having fought and—at least for now, “because don’t know when we’ll die”—won a battle with throat cancer (and being forced to take a year off for treatments—devastating to a man whose joy in creativity gives himself and his listeners such pleasure), it became clear that the beginnings of his “baby” Bach (“I feel I need to write a chorale of my own” shared on camera), will blossom into yet another remarkable achievement.

Also a social activist who feels the many pains of the world to the bottom of his being (living in New York City during 9/11: “I heard an explosion…took photos of birds flying around [the Twin Towers]…then there was no music for a week”), it is precisely through engaging in Sakamoto’s creations that the rest of us might come to realize just what the world needs to hear and feel more than incessant demands for power, treasure and dominion over others.

Let’s hope Schible’s production finds audiences near and far. JWR

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Featured artist - Ryuichi Sakamoto
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