Ryuichi Sakamoto has died aged 71.
A statement on the composer’s official website reads: “While undergoing treatment for cancer discovered in June 2020, Sakamoto continued to create works in his home studio whenever his health would allow. He lived with music until the very end.
“We would like to express out deepest gratitude to his fans and all those who have supported his activities, as well as medical professionals in Japan and the United States who did everything in their power to cure him.”
“In accordance with Sakamoto’s strong wishes, the funeral service was held among his close family members. Finally, we would like to share one of Sakamoto’s favourite quotes: ‘Ars longa, vita brevis’ [Art is Long, life is short’].”
Sakamoto was first diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014, prompting him to take a year off music. After treatment, the cancer went into remission, but in 2020 it was confirmed he had been diagnosed with rectal cancer.
In an essay published last June, Sakamoto revealed that he had undergone surgery in late 2021 to remove cancer that had spread to both lungs and was still battling stage 4 cancer.
“Since I have made it this far in life, I hope to be able to make music until my last moment, like Bach and Debussy whom I adore,” he wrote.
In December, Sakamoto shared a livestream concert, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Playing the Piano 2022. In a video message, he explained that due to treatment, his “strength has really fallen, so a normal concert of about an hour to ninety minutes would be very difficult,” so he had recorded each track separately before editing them together “so it can be presented as a regular concert.”
Sakamoto was a member of electronic pioneer, Yellow Magic Orchestra, which he co-founded in Tokyo in 1978 along with Haruomi Hosono (bass, keyboards, vocals) and Yukihiro Takahashi (drums, lead vocals, occasional keyboards). YMO broke up in 1984, though they occasionally reunited for releases and reunion concerts; Takahashi died on January 11, 2023.
Meanwhile, Sakamoto also pursued a solo career, including “Riot In Lagos” from his 1980 solo album, B-2 Unit, which proved hugely influential on early electro and hip hop artists like Afrika Bambaata and Mantronix.
Sakamoto’s subsequent career was boundless and wide-ranging. In 1983, he starred in Nagisa Ōshima’s film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence alongside David Bowie; Sakamoto also wrote the main theme, “Forbidden Colours”, which he recorded with David Sylvian.
Sakamoto and Sylvian enjoyed a fruitful collaborative relationship during the ’80s, one of many that also included creative alliances with Iggy Pop, Robert Wyatt, Laurie Anderson, Alva Noto and Taylor Deupree, among others.
He won numerous awards – including an Oscar, a Grammy, a Bafta and two Golden Globes – for his work as a film composer, scoring the likes of The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky, Little Buddha and The Revenant.
A master of multiple compositional forms, from Bach-inspired piano pieces to experimental electronic projects, he sustained a questing spirit for over 50 years.
His final album was 12, which was released on January 17 – which was also Sakamoto’s 71st birthday.