As the Award-winning musician-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto presented his music documentary directed by Stephen Nomura Schible (co-producer of “Lost in Translation”) titled “Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA” in Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF/TIFFJP)’s special screening section, he received TIFF Samurai Award on November 1st, 2017.
This award was previously given to Takeshi Kitano & Tim Burton (2014), Yoji Yamada & John Woo (2015) and Martin Scorcese & Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2016) as veteran filmmakers and other creators for their contribution towards the groundbreaking works that carve pathways to a new era in cinema. This year Sakamoto joins these big names as the first honoree who’s not a director or filmmaker as well as the first to bring a measure of levity to the proceedings.
Receiving this award in the special ceremony from TIFF’s new festival director Takeo Hisamatsu, Sakamoto said with a big smile that the Katana sword symbol engraved to the trophy reminded him of the sword he used in his first movie appearance; “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (Nagisa Oshima, 1983). He also recalled that he had to spend eight days in a dojo to learn how to use the sword. He felt proud, but at the same time he also felt sorry that during the training session he chopped down so many trees on the Pacific Island. More than 30 years later, he realized that he wasn’t as environmentally conscious as he is now. As an environmental activist, Sakamoto now works to plant and preserve trees beside his career as a musician.
Director Stephen Nomura Schible then joined him on stage telling behind the scenes stories of CODA which started shooting in the summer of 2012 and some thankful notes to the crew and people involved. Like a special talk show, Sakamoto said that he usually didn’t like to reveal his true self to people, yet when Schible came to him with this idea of a documentary, he got interested. They both admitted that a feature documentary like this which took five years in the making is never an easy thing.
photo ©2017 tiff-jp
To Schible, the essential heart of this documentary lies in the year in which Sakamoto is forced to be on hiatus from work and performing because he had to focus on his treatment after being diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer. The rest follows from this monumental turning point in Sakamoto’s life, like a contemplation from a man worrying about his mortality but still eager to set masterpieces.
Sakamoto added that he always wanted to write music and he won’t be ashamed to be left behind, yet he also constantly bumping up against his own limitations in his old age.
From his NY-based basement studios to the journey to Arctic Circle to record the sounds of nature as a ceaseless habit, CODA took us to Sakamoto’s process in creating and mixing his distinctive music style, the one he called ‘auditory texture in pursuit of sonic blending, both chaotic and unified’.
One of this style of work to produce natural sounds can be seen in his film score compositions, which director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu specifically asked him to do: “The Revenant”. Sakamoto told that he was supposed to be on hiatus for his treatment but he couldn’t say no because he admired Inarritu too much.
Sakamoto also described how he, being an environmental activist, organizing a No Nukes concert and took part in one of the frequent anti-nuclear demonstrations. He also talked about how the 3/11 Earthquake/Tsunami experience in Japan reminded him of his 9/11 experience in New York. He remembered that the music vanished from Manhattan for a week, and stunned to realize it when he heard a guitar a week later.
Closing his stage appearance after receiving this year’s TIFF Samurai Award, Sakamoto said “Tonight you’ll be seeing my documentary, and I want to thank you all for being here.” Soon after, he corrected himself by laughing: “Well, it’s not my film, I’m the main character but I didn’t make it.”