Notebook Soundtrack Mix #8: Universal Meditations — The Film Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto

Celebrating the music soundtracks by pioneering sound artist Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Florence Scott-Anderton

Part of our on-going series, Notebook Soundtrack Mixes.

Ryuichi Sakamoto can be found at home in a vast array of places. There is always a grounding within his music wherever you are in the world or, in his movie soundtracks, with whatever character you are following on screen. Subtle hints of Sakamoto’s signature sound always bubble to the surface. 

The notion of Eastern and Western sound distinctions do not matter to Sakamoto; instead, the play and fusion between these differing worlds and sounds has always been of more interest, to Sakamoto it’s all about the emotion produced—a universality that eventually moves the sound beyond place. 

The musician and composer needs no introduction. He is the master of so many musical universes: The Sakamoto whose work with YMO and solo experimental productions shaped the future sounds of what would become electro and hip hop, an early pioneer of electronic music. Sakamoto the Oscar-winning film composer, working within and outside of the mainstream (but always much happier outside of it). Sakamoto the experimental producer, innovating sound years before anyone can catch up, working with small independent labels, consistently pushing forward new ways to listen and experience music. And then there’s the Sakamoto who sits at his piano as the camera intimately rolls, as he muses on life, mortality, the love of sound, of Bach, Tarkovsky and cinema.

This mix is two hours of choice cuts from the cinematic universe of Sakamoto, spanning his whole film career and moving between many different moods. It travels between the ambient and atmospheric landscapes of far off worlds, rave infused electronics, thrilling and somber drama, balearic balmly downtempo, sweeping melodic love letters and delicate piano pieces. With Sakamoto, it always comes back to a place of reflection and deep feeling. You’ll find the Sakamoto of synth-pop persuasion, the wonky electronics and sleazy jazz-infused ambient of scores such as Love Is The Devil (John Maybury, 1998) and Snake Eyes (Brian De Palma, 1998) . The mix has plenty of favorites such as his work with longtime collaborators Bernardo Bertolucci and Alejandro González Iñárritu, but you’ll also find sounds from smaller projects too (that has always been the magic of Sakamoto, his interest in films big or small) such as the “Field Work” (1985) music video collaboration for Thomas Dolby and the short animation Rabbit Ears: Peachboy (C.W Rogers, 1993, with Sigourney Weaver narrating). Weaving throughout the mix you’ll find the sounds of Sakamoto himself, collecting field recordings across the globe and pondering on sound and film, the Sakamoto from the 2018 documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, the work he made during the filming resulting in his album async. The mix is a celebration of the work of a musician at the top of his game consistently, traversing many worlds and capturing our imaginations and hearts each time.

1. Edits from Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

2. Shining Boy & Little Randy (2005), "Shining Boy & Little Randy (Endroll)"

3. The Revenant (2015), "Discovering River"

4. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), "Ride, Ride, Ride (Celliar’s Brother’s Song)"

5. Femme Fatale (2002), "Tragedy"

6. The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986), "Koneko Monogatari (Vocal Version)"

7. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987), "Muda"

8. Field Work (1985), "Field Work"

9. Rabbit Ears: Peachboy (1993), "Peachboy (edit)"

10. Alexei and the Spring (2002), "Happiness"

11. Black Rain (1989), "Laserman"

12. Edits from Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

13. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017), "Walker"

14. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017), "Solari"

15. Edits from Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

16. Babel (2006), "Bibo No Aozora"

17. The Revenant (2015), "Cat & Mouse"

18. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), "Before The War"

19. The Staggering Girl (2019), "Women In Yellow III"

20. Love Is The Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998), "Love Is The Devil"

21. Snake Eyes (1998), "Tyler and Serena"

22. The Staggering Girl (2019), "Casa"

23. The Last Emperor (1987), "Rain (I Want A Divorce)"

24. Tony Takitani (2004), "DNA (Intro) (Edit)"

25. The Last Emperor (1987), "Theme Variation I"

26. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983), "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence"

27. Wild Palms (1993), "Tully Hooked"

28. Little Buddha (1993), "The Middle Way"

29. The Sheltering Sky (1990), "Night Train"

30. The Handmaid's Tale (1990), "The Handsmaid’s Tale (Suite 2) (Edit)"

31. Little Buddha (1993), "Raga Naiki Kanhra (Edit)"

32. Little Buddha (1993), "Acceptance / End Credits"

33. Wild Palms (1993), "The Beach"

34. Edits from Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

35. Taboo (1999), "Gohatto: Opening Theme"

36. Wuthering Heights (1992), "Omen"

37. Call Me By Your Name (2017), "Germination"

38. Edits from Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017)

39. The Sheltering Sky (1990), "The Sheltering Sky Theme (Piano Version)"

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