YMO member and award-winning Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto has passed away

Ryuichi Sakamoto, the world-renowned Japanese musician and composer and keyboardist of the legendary electronic music group Yellow Magic Orchestra, also known as YMO, has died, his office said on Sunday. He is 71 years old.

Sakamoto revealed in June 2022 that he had been battling stage IV cancer. The Tokyo native starred in the 1983 Borth film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and won an Oscar and Grammy for the 1987 film “The Last Emperor.”

Ryuichi Sakamoto speaks during an interview in Tokyo on March 25, 2017. (Kyoto)

The funeral of Sakamoto, who died last Tuesday, was already attended by only close relatives, the office said. The exact cause of death was not immediately known.

Along with his interest in environmental and peace issues, Sakamoto became active in the anti-nuclear movement in recent years after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by a killer earthquake and tsunami.

The son of Kazuki Sakamoto, the renowned editor of the publishing house Kawade Shobo Shinsha, Sakamoto began studying music writing at the age of 10 and was inspired by the Beatles and Debussy.

As a high school student in the late 1960s, he participated in student demonstrations. Later, in an interview, he revealed that the experience “was at the core of who I am.”

In 1978, Sakamoto formed YMO with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi. Their futuristic techno-pop music, making full use of synthesizers, resonated with the late 1970s era of hits such as the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the arcade game “Space Invaders.”

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In January, YMO’s drummer Takahashi died of aspiration pneumonia.

A file photo taken in Yokohama in July 2010 shows Ryuichi Sakamoto (C) with Yellow Magic Orchestra band members Yukihiro Takahashi (L) and Haruomi Hosono.

Dressed in clothing resembling Mao clothing, the trio’s performances were well received in the United States and Europe, and their music, such as “Technopolis” and “Ritein” from the album released in 1979, became popular in Japan following their success overseas. YMO’s hit tunes include 1983’s “Kimi Ni Mune Kyun” (My Heart Beats for You).

With a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Tokyo University of the Arts, Sakamoto was known for his theoretical views and vast knowledge of classical and folk music, earning him the nickname “Professor”.

He scored more than 30 films, including Nagisa Oshima’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” in which he played the Japanese commandant of a prison camp, and directed both “The Last Emperor” and “The Sheltering Sky.” Bernardo Bertolucci in 1987 and 1990 respectively.

File photo shows the crew making the movie “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” in Paris on May 11, 1983: (from L) producer Jack Thomas, composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, star David Bowie and director Nagisa Oshima. (AP/Kyodo)

A file photo shows Ryuichi Sakamoto playing the keyboard during the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s reunion concert at the Tokyo Dome in June 1993. (Kyoto)

More Trees, a Tokyo-based forest conservation group, was founded in 2007.

Sakamoto, who began spending most of his time in New York in the early 1990s, went public with a diagnosis of throat cancer in 2014 and rectal cancer in 2021. The cancer later spread to his lungs, requiring surgery in October and December. 2021.

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In an article titled “Living with Cancer” published by the literary magazine “Shinjo” in June 2022, Sakamoto discussed in detail his cancer diagnosis and how he overcame it.

The article titled “How many more times will I see the full moon?” The first part of a series of articles on The musician wrote in the monthly magazine, mainly about his musical activities and his views on life and death.

In a statement about the launch of the series, he said, “Having come this far in life, I hope to be able to compose until my last moment like the Bach and Debussy I love.”

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Sakamoto was one of the few Japanese celebrities in the entertainment industry to make political statements, including saying that the situation surrounding the attacks was “created by the hegemonic nation of the United States”.

After the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated northeastern Japan in 2011, he became the music director of the Tohoku Youth Orchestra, made up of children affected by the disasters.

File photo shows Ryuichi Sakamoto (4th from L) poses as music director of the Tohoku Youth Orchestra in Tokyo on March 31, 2019. (Kyoto)

In March 2022, while battling stage IV cancer, Sakamoto participated in the band’s concert in Tokyo, where he performed a new symphony he had composed, “Ima Jigan Ka Kadamui Te” (Now Time Is Leaning).

The symphony ends with the tolling of bells, and he explains to the audience from the stage that earthquakes and wars share the same prayer for the peace of souls slain.

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The concert took place amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and he noted that the symphony had some similarities to Ukraine’s national anthem, adding, “Each of you must decide whether the sound of bells (at the end of the symphony) sounds like a plea or a hope.”

Singer-songwriter Akiko Yano is his ex-wife and musician Miu Sakamoto is his daughter.


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