Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda




A famed Japanese composer talks about his work less rewardingly than one would wish.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Some documentary films lack the desirable cinematic flair that would ensure that they look better in the cinema than on television. With Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, however, the impression that watching it gives goes much further. It is a shapeless piece so lacking in structure that it suggests a TV programme developed only because the station found that they had been able to secure a deal with an artist for an interview. Here the artist is the Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, a composer and pianist known not only in his native Japan but internationally. His wide fame probably stems first and foremost from the scores that he wrote for such notable films as Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1982), in which he was also a leading actor, The Last Emperor (1987), The Sheltering Sky (1990) and most recently The Revenant (2015). That aspect is covered here, but we learn virtually nothing of his background, his personal life or the details of his professional career. It is typical that his interest in acting is never discussed.


A long prologue prior to the title credit introduces him anonymously as he speaks out about the need to protest about nuclear power, a view strengthened by his reaction to the nuclear disaster in the Fukushima plant in 2011 triggered by a tsunami. Only after that does the film turn to his music and to the one personal issue touched on - the fact that he has been diagnosed with throat cancer and at the time of filming was slowly returning to work following an enforced break caused by that. A relapse is always possible at any time, yet it seems odd that the film should use the term 'coda' when he speaks of an uncertain future that could still mean that he has twenty or thirty years ahead of him.


This film by Stephen Nomura Schible does stress various developments in Sakamoto's music including his pioneering work in electronic music involving the use of computers, his desire to incorporate natural sounds into his work (a consequence of his admiration for the sound world that Tarkovsky created in his films) and a more recent wish to compose music which would be expressive of social and political concerns. But this information comes to us bittily and with limited clarification when penetrating questions could have yielded a far deeper understanding of what would appear to be Sakamoto's changing aims even as his veneration for Bach's Chorales remains a constant. What we get is not nothing, but it's not really very much considering that this is a film lasting all of 101 minutes. To what extent is he a performer as well as a composer and does he play other people's music in public? We do see Sakamoto in Kenya and in the Arctic Circle, but to what extent he has left Japan behind to live in New York one can only guess. For those already deeply knowledgeable about Sakamoto's life and work, this film however vague may offer a welcome gloss, but anyone hoping that it will help them to get to grips with the man and his music is likely to be disappointed.




Featuring  Ryuichi Sakamoto.


Dir Stephen Nomura Schible, Pro Stephen Nomura Schible, Eric Nyari and Yoshiko Hashimoto, Ph Sora Neo S. and Tom Richmond, Ed Kushida Hisayo and Oshige Yuji.


Cineric/Borderland Media/NHK Production/Kadokawa/Avex Digital/Dentsu Music and Entertainment-Modern Films/Munro Films.
101 mins. USA/Japan/The Netherlands. 2017. Rel: 29 June 2018. Cert. PG.