Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus

Director – Neo Sora – 2023 – Japan – Cert. U – 103m


Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto performs a final concert of his music in 2022, months before finally dying of cancer on March 28th, 2023 – out in UK cinemas on Friday, March 29th, 2024

Released in the UK within a day of the anniversary of his passing, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s final concert is an intimate affair, shot in a sound studio by his son Neo Sora in crisp, iconic black and white, the sound of his piano recorded with state-of-the-art equipment. Within months of this performance, cancer would have taken him from us. This is very different from concert films where the performer(s) is / are still alive. Much of Sakamoto’s music tends towards the melancholy, and watching this remarkable, musical testament, one is constantly reminded of the fact that he is no longer with us.

Caught by the camera, he is clearly aware that he doesn’t have that much time left. One of the pieces, he struggles to get right. “This is too hard”, he says, “I need a break.” Nevertheless, the camera and sound recording equipment proceed to capture him playing his 20 chosen compositions with all the considerable skill of the great player that he is / was. Even the verbal tenses as I write remind me that he’s gone.

Knowing his son is in charge of the shooting lends an intimacy to the proceedings. Sakamoto was too weak to tour by this point in his life, filming a concert like this was all he could cope with, and having family involved almost certainly eased the overall burden of recording this final performance.

In places, the silences seem as significant as the played notes. For one piece, he rigs the piano so make a completely different sound. As he works through his chosen repertoire of his own classical compositions and themes he contributed to various film soundtracks, I find that I recognised many of his tunes without remembering the compositions’ names or which films which pieces came from, yet many of them felt like old, familiar friends. Sakamoto may have been struggling physically to pull this off, but everything on the screen and the soundtrack here is as good a performance as he ever gave. Which is saying quite something.

It’s a peculiar, if ultimately worthwhile, experience, watching a top-notch performance by one of the greats knowing, as you watch, that he is dead. The film feels like a modern day media equivalent of a tomb, at once alive before our eyes and a representation of someone who no longer is. We are grateful for the music and for one last, revisitable chance to see him perform it. As with no other film I can think of, in the moments when this is quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, March 29th.


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