Ryuichi Sakamoto, a pioneering composer and producer who was among the first to use electronic production into popular songcraft, has died at the age of 71.
Sakamoto reportedly died on March 28 after a multi-year battle with cancer, according to a statement published on his website Sunday.
“We would like to share one of Sakamoto’s favourite quotes,” the statement read. “‘Ars longa, vita brevis.’ Art is long, life is short.”
The Japanese composer had an exceptionally wide-ranging career: he was by turns a synth-pop idol, the composer of both sweeping film scores and quiet, gentle sound environments, and a collaborator of such artistes as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Bernardo Bertolucci.
As a member of Japan’s hugely influential band Yellow Magic Orchestra and as a solo artiste, he was a grandfather of electronic pop music, making songs that influenced early hip-hop and techno.
Born on January 17, 1952, Sakamoto began taking piano lessons when he was six, and later started writing his own music. As a teenager, he became enamoured of the work of Claude Debussy — a composer who himself had been inspired by Asian musical aesthetics, including that of Japan.
In 1978, he joined multi-instrumentalist Haruomi Hosono and drummer Yukihiro Takahashi to form the band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). Sakamoto played keyboards, and all three members sang.
He went on to score such films as Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) — for which he won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy, along with co-composers David Byrne and Chinese composer Cong Su — as well as Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky in 1990, for which he also won a Golden Globe. He also wrote the scores for Pedro Almodovar’s High Heels in 1991, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel in 2006 and The Revenant in 2015, among others.