Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is a reflection on how the composer hears the world

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is a documentary as composed and improvised as its subject. A five-year film in development follows the Oscar-winning composer and activist when he visits the Fukushima nuclear reactor after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and then through his stage 3 throat cancer diagnosis, which initially left the documentary direction in uncertainty.

But Sakamoto responds to the various crises in his life with a quickness of reality: this is how things should be done. His cancer fight was the longest he had spent without making music; A little over a year after his diagnosis, he returned to work, this time in Alejandro Iñárritu's score The Revenant. His approach, says director Stephen Nomura Schible, was a major influence on the film.

"Ultimately, the composition process of Ryuichi became our guide and brought us to the unique form that the film acquired organically," he recalled. "I wanted this film to explore how the awareness of Ryuichi's crises had developed and how his musical expression has changed."

Sakamoto examines the damage in Fukushima.
Neo Sora. Photo courtesy of MUBI.

In the question and answer session following Coda Tribeca Film Festival premiere, Sakamoto sat down with Schible to discuss everything about a meeting with the late Studio Ghibli co-founder, Isao Takahata (" He fired me, my music was too serious for his films "), to appear on the soundtrack of Call me by your name of director Luca Guadagnino, whom he now considers a friend (" He uses music very carefully , With a lot of respect ").

Schible spoke of the unexpected surprises of working with Sakamoto, who thrives on improvisation: "Every time I had a plan, he would completely destroy everything I tried to do, I was completely disarmed."

"He tried to match his film with my music, but I always try to match my music with the movies, "Sakamoto explained, laughing. "This has happened for the first time in my life."

This type of spontaneous fluency is what has driven most of the composer's work throughout his decades-long career. In the movie, we see her restless creative energy at work, as she edits and adds clues while sitting on an exercise ball in her home studio. Improvises on a track that plays in the background by passing a violin bow over a charles cymbal to achieve a disconcerting effect. He listens to his surroundings with a playful curiosity, experimenting without stopping with everything he can find.

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Listening to the rain with the head in a bucket.
Neo Sora. Photo courtesy of MUBI.

Woven throughout the documentary are scenes from the films he has annotated, as well as images of his live performances. We see much younger versions of him performing with David Bowie in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and acting as part of the hugely influential Japanese techno-pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra. Among these nostalgic clips is an interview from his Tokyo documentary Tokyo Melody, in which he reflects on what he finds interesting in a rapidly changing Japan: "I'm worried about poor technology, in other words, errors or noises. I wonder if new cultural currents could arise from this deficiency. "

As we listen to the observations of his past, it is clear that this is an artist who has devoted his career to pursuing his interests tirelessly, a passion that has allowed him to evolve with his changing environment. Playing a sustained note on the piano, he waits for the sound to fade into the background: "I am fascinated by the idea of ​​a perpetual sound, one that will not dissipate over time." Death and disaster have themes in ] Coda, but Sakamoto's musical responses to these crises will be his legacy.

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Neo Sora. Photo courtesy of MUBI.

One of the best lines of the film also comes from the site of another type of disaster: the melting glaciers in Antarctica. Crouched next to a hole in the ice, Sakamoto lowers a microphone in the water to capture the melting sound of the ice, which he will then edit in one of his tracks. "I'm fishing for the sound," he jokes.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda will be released on July 6, 2018.

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