Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

In Review: Ryuichi Sakamoto - CODA

Director: Stephen Schible


Stephen Schible’s ruminative documentary follows Japanese musician, artist and campaigner Ryuichi Sakamoto over a 5 year period. During the film, Sakamoto is recovering from oropharyngeal cancer. It’s clear that this has left him unable to work as much as he’d like yet also determined to make meaningful music. The process behind the compositions he creates is carefully and gently exposed. The joy he finds in music is delightful to watch.

Sakamoto - who is best known for scoring The RevenantThe Last Emperor and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence - is deeply receptive to finding sounds in nature. He records them in places that are under the threat of environmental crises -  here we see how the North Pole (global warming) and Fukushima (nuclear power) inspire his orphic music. After 9/11 and the Iraq War and confused at where the anger within us comes from, he takes a trip to northern Kenya; the oldest human remains can be found there. ‘Why are we so violent? Why are we like this?’ he asks. We watch as he takes his recordings and turns them into coherent pieces in his New York studio. 

 ‘Artists and musicians tend to see things early,’ he contemplates. ‘Like canaries in a goldmine.’ It’s powerful to see how the danger and alarm he feels translates into captivating compositions and live performances. There is footage of his ‘opera’ Life (1999) - a genre-blending production that saw a coming together of over 100 collaborators. Early in the film, Sakamoto performs Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. As he does we are reminded of how beautiful and profound his music can be. Schible’s documentary is a welcome window into how it is achieved. TS