Legendary Japanese composer and producer Ryuichi Sakamoto passes away at age 71

The music world is mourning the loss of one of its most influential figures as news breaks of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s passing at the age of 71.

Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Japanese electronic music mastermind whose innovative soundscapes earned him international acclaim, has passed away at the age of 71. The iconic composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, who had battled cancer for the second time in 2021, died on Tuesday, his office confirmed.

Throughout his illustrious career, Sakamoto became known for his experimental approach to electronic music, which won him numerous accolades, including an Oscar, a Grammy, and a BAFTA. He was equally revered for his work with the Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), the seminal techno-pop band he co-founded in 1978 with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi.

ryuichi sakamoto

But Sakamoto’s influence was felt far beyond the boundaries of electronic music. His score for Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic drama The Last Emperor, released in 1987, earned him an Academy Award, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe.  Sakamoto’s artistic range was not limited to music as he also ventured into acting, leaving his mark on the silver screen. One of his most memorable performances was his portrayal of the conflicted Captain Yonoi in the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, alongside Takeshi Kitano and British rock legend David Bowie. Sakamoto also lent his acting talents to the epic film The Last Emperor, which chronicles the life of Puyi, the last emperor of China. He even appeared in Madonna’s “Rain” music video. Additionally, in 2015, he collaborated with director Alejandro González Iñárritu to produce the groundbreaking score for the film, The Revenant.

Sakamoto’s groundbreaking approach to composition was rooted in his classical training, which began at the age of 10. His early influences included The Beatles and Claude Debussy, and he later specialized in ethnomusicology at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He drew inspiration from a wide range of musical styles, and his collaborations with the likes of Brian Eno, Alva Noto, and cellist Jacques Morelenbaum showcased his ability to transcend genre boundaries.

For Sakamoto, music was a universal language that knew no borders. “To me, there is no genre difference or category differences,” he once said. “Music is music.” His commitment to environmental activism also cemented his status as a beloved figure in his native Japan, particularly following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Sakamoto’s legacy will live on through his daughter Miu Sakamoto, a popular J-pop singer, as well as the countless artists he inspired with his boundary-pushing compositions. His passing marks the end of an era for electronic music and a profound loss for the global music community.

Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s most acclaimed film scores include:

  • The Last Emperor (1987)
  • Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)
  • The Revenant (2015)
  • Little Buddha (1993)
  • Snake Eyes (1998)