Ryuichi Sakamoto, composer of The Last Emperor score, dies aged 71

Avex, the recording company he worked with, said the composer died on Tuesday

Japanese musician, composer and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto has died aged 71. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Oscar-winning Japanese composer famed for his scores for Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, The Last Emperor and other films, has died aged 71.

Sakamoto was also known for his acting, and for his work with the pioneering electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra, which he co-founded.

"He lived with music until the very end," Avex, the recording company he worked with, said on its website. He had been suffering from cancer, but kept working in his home studio whenever his health allowed, the company added.

He died on Tuesday, according to Avex.

Introduced to the piano as a toddler, Sakamoto lived for music. As a high schooler, he rode on Tokyo commuter carriages so packed nobody could move, amusing himself by counting all the different sounds the train made along the way.

Sakamoto, who described French composer Claude Debussy as his hero, studied ethnomusicology at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, with particular interest in the traditional music of Japan's Okinawa prefecture, as well as Indian and African musical traditions.

"Asian music heavily influenced Debussy, and Debussy heavily influenced me. So the music goes around the world and comes full circle," he told WNYC public radio in 2010.

Embracing electronic music, he and fellow studio musicians Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi formed YMO in 1978. The band's groundbreaking use of a vast array of electronic instruments brought both domestic and global success.

Sakamoto's first score was for the 1983 film Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, in which he also played the commandant of a prisoner of war camp, starring alongside David Bowie. The score went on to win a Bafta Award.

His most celebrated work was 1987's The Last Emperor — a film in which he also acted. The score won an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe.

Scroll through the gallery below to see some of the famous names we've lost this year

Updated: April 03, 2023, 5:51 AM