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R.I.P. Ryuichi Sakamoto

Written a few days after his death on Tuesday, 28th March 2023.

I’m actually quite shocked by this news. There’s a story here… It’s been a long time since I interviewed film people: these days it’s mostly reviews and a few features. Ryuichi Sakamoto was the very last person I interviewed face-to-face, in 1999 around the time of his BTTB and Cinemage albums. (I have since been privileged to write a piece about him again on the film Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, 2017).

Before the interview took place, there was one huge problem: his interview schedule was full. “But don’t worry”, said the publicist looking after him, “if you can get yourself over to the BBC Studios in Maida Vale for 4pm, Jools Holland is due to interview him – and Jools Holland is always an hour or so late. So if you’re prepared to do that, you’ve got him for an hour or so.”

On this occasion, I knew I had the interview placed in Manga Max magazine (sadly, long since gone) via its then editor Jonathan Clements, so I went for it. Sure enough, Jools Holland wasn’t on time and I had a fascinating interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto for about an hour covering various aspects of his career up to that point in time, including his film soundtrack work and, among other things, the multimedia opera Life he’d recently been working on.

I was later told that out of all the interviews promised on this occasion, mine was the only one to actually materialise in print. Which was (and is) nice for me, but less so for Sakamoto and the publicist looking after his account (as far as I could tell, she was doing a good job – sometimes publicity people do everything right, and through no fault of theirs, it just doesn’t come together).

He was an amazingly talented individual and a very good interview subject. It was a great afternoon and a memory I cherish. Briefly an actor (really a means to an end – he was in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, 1983, with David Bowie, primarily as a strategy to get his foot in the door in the world of writing film soundtracks), he was a classically trained musician and composed in that idiom as well as making more commercial pop music (with Yellow Magic Orchestra and on his own) and more experimental material, including electronica (check out his early album B-2 Unit). Musically, it seemed like there was nothing he couldn’t do.

He was only 71, which seems too young.

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