22 February 2010

Japanese Oscar Winners 3: Ryuichi Sakamoto

Ryūichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一, b.1952)

Sakamoto, Cong Su, and David Byrne won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1987 for Berardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (a sample of Sakamoto's contribution is here). Sakamoto is a prolific composer and performer whose work has won many awards over the years. My own personal favourite work by Sakamoto is the soundtrack to Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (戦場のメリークリスマス, 1984) which won him the Mainichi Film Concours and the BAFTA for Best Film Score. I found it disturbing while Christmas shopping in Japan to hear it playing in shopping centres. Although it has a Christmas theme, the music does not bring up visions of sugar-plums, if you know what I mean. 

Like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Sakamoto also stars in The Last Emperor playing the notorious Masahiko Amakasu (甘粕正彦, 1891-1945). Despite his obvious skills as an actor, these two films were rare occasions. He also had a cameo in Madonna’s music video for Rain playing her video director.
The Last Emperor may have been Sakamoto’s only Oscar win, but he really could have won the award for any number of soundtracks that he composed. Some of his best*  include:

Koneko monogatari (子猫物語, Masanori Hata, 1986 - nominated for a Japanese Academy Award)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Volker Sclöndorff, 1990)
Sheltering Sky (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1990 - won Sakamoto a Golden Globe)
Tacones Iejanos (High Heels, Pedro Almodovar, 1991 - won Sakamoto a Golden Kikito)
Wuthering Heights (Peter Kosminsky,1992)
Little Buddha (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1993 - won Sakamoto a Grammy)
Gohatto (御法度, Nagisa Oshima, 1999)
Alexei and the Spring (アレクセイと泉, Seiichi Motohashi, 2002)
Appleseed (アップルシード, Shinji Aramaki, 2004)
Tony Takitani (トニー滝谷, Jun Ichikawa, 2004)
Silk (François Girard, 2007 - nominated for a Genie Award)

* by best, I am referring to the quality of the soundtrack irregardless of the quality of the film itself. Some of these films are not the greatest (Little Buddha), while others (Tony Takitani) are masterpieces.