Experimental Japanese Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto Dies at 71

Ryuichi Sakamoto, a legendary Japanese composer, passed away at 71, according to a statement from his management team on March 28. The Grammy-winning electronic music icon, who also won an Oscar and Bafta for his work in film, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2021, following a previous battle with throat cancer in 2014.

Despite his diagnosis, Sakamoto continued to create music in his home studio while undergoing treatment. Last December, he performed a live-streamed solo piano concert that he hinted could be his final show. Sakamoto’s team released a statement expressing gratitude to fans for their support and the medical professionals who tried to save him.

Sakamoto had a lifelong passion for music, beginning with piano lessons at three and performing with jazz bands in high school. Before launching his career, he studied music composition and ethnomusicology at the Tokyo University of the Arts. In 1978, he formed Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, with whom he had previously played as a session musician.

YMO became a seminal synth-pop band, with their 1978 debut album making waves in Japan and abroad. Their pioneering sound significantly impacted hip-hop and was sampled by numerous artists. After releasing several albums, YMO disbanded in 1983. Their influence reverberated throughout the electronic music world and beyond.

Sakamoto’s work extended far beyond YMO, including film scores, collaborations with numerous musicians, and solo material pushing avant-garde music’s boundaries. He scored films for directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, and Nagisa Ōshima. Sakamoto’s musical collaborations included working with artists such as David Sylvain, Adrian Belew and Robin Scott, Iggy Pop, Brian Wilson and Robert Wyatt, Robbie Robertson, Carsten Nicolai, Christopher Willits, and Fennesz.

Despite his untimely passing, Sakamoto’s legacy as a groundbreaking musician and composer will undoubtedly live on through his influential work.