Culture / Film

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s final live performance is captured by his son in this film

ryuichi sakamoto opus

When we heard news of Ryuichi Sakamoto's death at the age of 71 in March this year, many of us plunged back into the Japanese composer and musician's prolific body of work . We took solace in his most recent ambient and somber release, an EP of a dozen songs simply titled 12 that he made in the wake of his cancer diagnosis, and a final playlist curated for his own funeral.

However, as it turns out, it wasn't just this album that Sakamoto had been working on in his last few months – he was also being filmed, in what would be some of his final live performances in Tokyo's NHK Broadcast Centre. The concert film, entitled Opus, is an intimate look at Sakamoto, not only for its content, but because it was directed by the late musician's son, Neo Sora, and produced by Sakamoto's wife and manager, Norika Sora. It features Sakamoto alone on stage with a piano.

What do we know so far?

Opus is slated to receive its world premiere at this year's Venice Film Festival, on 5 September. It will include performances of music from Sakamoto's infamous and experimental 80s band Yellow Magic Orchestra, as well as score excerpts from some of his greatest film compositions, including The Last Emperor and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. It will also include works from his final album, 12. 

By way of announcement, Sakamoto's family released the following, posthumous statement from the composer about Opus:

"The project was conceived as a way to record my performances – while I was still able to perform – in a way that is worth preserving for the future. We borrowed the NHK Broadcast Center’s 509 Studio to record in, which is a place that I think offers the finest acoustics in Japan," the statement read.

"I played every piece at home which we recorded on an iPhone to construct the overall composition of the concert that will express the progression of time from morning into night. Everything was meticulously storyboarded so that the camera positions and the lighting changed significantly with each song. I went into the shoot a little nervous, thinking this might be my last chance to share my performance with everyone in this way. We recorded a few songs a day with a lot of care.

In some sense, while thinking of this as my last opportunity to perform, I also felt that I was able to break new grounds. Simply playing a few songs a day with a lot of concentration was all I could muster at this point in my life. Perhaps due to the exertion, I felt utterly hollow afterwards, and my condition worsened for about a month. Even so, I feel relieved that I was able to record before my death—a performance that I was satisfied with."

Where can I watch Ryuichi Sakamoto's Opus?

Unless you're attending this year's Venice Film Festival, you might be out of luck until the film is hopefully picked up by a distributer or streaming service. In the meantime, Deadline have shared an exclusive teaser from the film that you can watch on its website.

Stay inspired, follow us.

Image from Opus.