Ryuichi Sakamoto, the famed Japanese musician and composer, has died at the age of 71.
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He had been battling failing health for several years, having been diagnosed in 2014 with throat cancer, then bowel cancer in 2021. Through all his treatments and surgeries, however, he continued to write music and perform, even giving an online performance as recently as December 2022.
Sakamoto is perhaps best known for his work composing the score to several films, especially The Last Emperor (for which he won an Academy Award), The Last Buddha, The Revenant (which saw him nominated for a Golden Globe) and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, in which he also appeared on-screen alongside David Bowie.
Yet he was also famous for his earlier pop career, both as a solo artist and as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, an electronic group that was huge in Japan in the early 80s. YMO had an impact on Western musicians and markets as well; their song “Computer Game” charted in the UK, and they appeared live on Soul Train in 1980.
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Over his decades-long career writing music Sakamoto even worked on a few video games, from 1989 RPG Tengai Makyou: Ziria, the first game in the long-running Far East of Eden series, to 2006’s Dawn of Mana, for which he composed the opening theme (for more on this surprisingly excellent but also confusing credit, see here).
His most recent contribution to a video game was 2014’s wonderful Hohokum, in which (among other excellent selections) the track Reticent Reminiscence, a collaboration between Sakamoto and electronic musician Christopher Willits, appears.
Sakamoto died on March 28, with the announcement of his passing coming after his funeral on April 2. He is survived by his four children, one of whom is Japanese pop star Miu Sakamoto.