Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017) - full transcript

From techno-pop stardom to Oscar-winning film composer, the evolution of Ryuichi Sakamoto's music has coincided with his life journeys. Following Fukushima, Sakamoto became an iconic figure in Japan's social movement against nuclear power. As Sakamoto returns to music following a cancer diagnosis, his haunting awareness of life crises leads to a resounding new masterpiece. RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: CODA is an intimate portrait of both the artist and the man.

I'm amazed it didn't fall apart.

The tsunami lifted the piano.

You can see the waterline on the side.

It was swept away.

- It floated up?
- Yes.

Up to this line?

I felt as if I was playing the corpse
of a piano that had drowned.

"Nuclear Power -
Energy for a Bright Future"

"Friday, March 11"

"No pulse."

"Tower crane operator confirmed dead.
Reactors 1-4 stable."

"You are within a 10 km radius of
the plant. Do not go outside."

There was a line of pine trees.

I see.

The tsunami came from there.

You saw it?

A black wall of water

came surging over the pines.

No nuclear power!
Don't restart the plants!

They restarted the nuclear
power plant at Oi.

The Japanese people need to
speak up to those in power.

We can't allow ourselves to get
discouraged or complacent.

We Japanese have kept too quiet
for the past 40 years.

40 to 50 years.

That would be a shame.

This is the first demonstration
since the restart.

So it's an important day.

No nuclear power!
Don't restart the plants!

Another nuclear disaster
and Japan is finished!

Japan is finished!

Not just Japan, but the world!

The world will end!

This is a crisis!

Real people are in the plant now,

risking their lives to keep the reactors
from falling apart.

If not for them, it'd be over for us,
the politicians,

for everyone!

No more nukes!

I'm against nuclear power.
I'm against restarting the plants.

Even if one or two plants restart,
we can't give up.

We must brace for a long battle.

That was my feeling about it.

Here in front of the National
Diet Building,

people have started pouring
into the streets.

Since the nuclear accident,

the social and political climate
in Japan has only worsened.

I spoke openly about
the controversial issues.

It would have been stressful
not to speak my mind.

If I feel strongly about something,
I can't look the other way.

"In memory of the victims of
the earthquake and tsunami"

Good evening.

I'm Ryuichi Sakamoto.

You must be very cold.

Don't hesitate to move around
to stay warm.

I hope you enjoy the music.

I never expected this to happen.

The thought of cancer never
even crossed my mind.

So when I was diagnosed...

I had the standard reaction.

I couldn't come to terms with it.

It still feels like a joke,

to be perfectly honest.

"I have Stage 3 throat cancer."

"If it worsens, it'll spread
to my lymph nodes."

"7/25/14 - Body temperature's down.
It's bad. Treatment starts today."

Since my career began in my twenties,

I've never stopped working.
Not for this long.

I feel torn.

With each day,

I wonder if I should be getting
back to work.

Perhaps I'm anxious to work?

I'm not sure.

Now a year into treatment,
I wonder if it's doing me any good

to not be working like this.

On the other hand...

I need to do everything I possibly can

to prevent a relapse.

If I don't follow through
with the treatment in full,

I'll certainly regret it.

It would be a shame not
to extend my life, if I could.

My mouth isn't
producing enough saliva.

I feel I have 70% swallowing capacity.

It's hard.

You got me.

My goodness.

I'm vulnerable to infection because
my immune system is weak.

I need to keep my mouth very clean.

Around here

the bone is apparently dead.

Once the bone is dead,

it can't regenerate.

I was constantly up against
my own limitations.

Working 8 hours a day had never
been a problem for me before.

I clearly wasn't going to make
my deadline.

I was becoming a nervous wreck.
I almost gave up.

I honestly don't know

how many years I have left.

It could be twenty years, ten years,

or a relapse reduces it to just one.

I'm not taking anything for granted.

But I know that I want to make
more music.

Music that I won't be ashamed
to leave behind -

meaningful work.

The year I was diagnosed with cancer,

I was working on a new album.

Everything had to be stopped
so I could focus on treatment.

Or postponed, rather.

So, I abandoned all the ideas
I had going at the time

and decided to start all over again.

I really like Tarkovsky's use of
Bach's organ chorales.

I want something like that.

My intentions are still rather vague.

I have these opaque thoughts,
but something in that vein.

This is where I'll start.

But I can't just copy how Tarkovsky
interprets Bach.

That wouldn't be right.

I feel I need to write a chorale
of my own.

The world is full of sounds.

We don't normally hear them
as "music".

But the sounds are actually
very interesting, musically.

So I have a strong desire to
incorporate them into my work,

mix them with instruments
into one soundscape.

A sonic blending that is both
chaotic and unified.

That's what I'd like to hear right now.

It's a good match.

This is what I was looking for.

I think it'll work.

Sounds very 80s, right?

Tokyo underwent a change
from around the mid-70s.

That's when it started to represent
the global cutting edge,

technologically and culturally.

It became a futuristic place.

It's 1984 and I'm here in Tokyo.

Tokyo, or Japan rather, has
essentially become the world's

most advanced capitalist country.

Technology seems to be rapidly
evolving on its own.

The gears move more
and more efficiently.

Possibilities are emerging
beyond the horizons

of our human imagination.

I'm not saying "Return to Nature,
to pre-modern times".

I'm not interested in going
against the current.

I'm interested in the erosion
of technology,

such as errors or noises.

What are the merits of using a computer?

Mainly, it plays fast,
difficult phrases for you.

For example...

That's not so difficult actually.

But human fingers don't move
so fast mechanically.

So we let the computer do that.


It's so fast.

I can't keep up.

The computer lets you make music
even if you can't play piano.

You just need an idea, and you don't
have to practice for decades.

I'm trying to think cinematically,
as an experiment.

I want to compose as if for a film
that doesn't yet exist.

That's what I'm doing now.

The way Tarkovsky used
the sound of water,

not just water but also wind
or footsteps

added great auditory texture.

He had a profound love and reverence
for the sound of things.

His soundtracks are full of
environmental recordings.

They're deeply integrated into his work.

His films actually contain
intricate soundscapes.

In a sense, he was a musician.

After much thought,

I decided I want to make music

in the spirit of a Tarkovsky soundtrack.

If I could make an album like that,
I'd be very happy.

No sound.

It's too thick.

When I'm composing for films,

I'm fulfilling someone else's vision.

I'm personally constrained, musically.

But those constraints can also be
a source of inspiration.

I often discover new possibilities
for myself that I never knew existed.

It all started with "Merry Christmas
Mr. Lawrence".

Nagisa Oshima was a director
I really admired.

He said, "Be in my film."

I was thrilled.

I should've just said "Yes",
but being young and petulant

I said, "Only if you let me score
the film, too."

Film work always comes suddenly.

As it did for "The Last Emperor".

Producer Jeremy Thomas called and
said, "Come to Beijing next week."

He wanted me to act.

We shot in Beijing, Dalian, Changchun.

While in Changchun,

I was suddenly asked to write music
for a scene to be shot in 2 days.

I'd been hired to act, not to compose.

It was a really shabby piano,
but it somehow produced sound.

The next day at the studio we gathered
local musicians and recorded.

Ready... Action!

Slowly, slowly...

Pan down.

The shoot ended.

And I went to New York for
a different recording.

Just as I was about to leave the hotel
I heard somebody shout,

"Mr. Sakamoto!"
It was Reception with a call for me.

Jeremy Thomas again.

"We need more music now!"

I wrote 45 songs in one week and
took them with me to London.

The recording began immediately.

Thank God I was young.
I couldn't do that today.

What a great sound!


When I think about music, it's
usually from a piano perspective.

The piano doesn't sustain sound.

Left alone, the sound attenuates
and disappears.

You can still hear it a little,

but it gets drowned out
by ambient noise.

I'm fascinated by the notion
of a perpetual sound.

One that won't dissipate over time.

Essentially, the opposite of a piano,
because the notes

never fade.

I suppose in literary terms,

it would be like a metaphor
for eternity.

We were just about to start recording.

During rehearsal, Bertolucci
calls me over and says,

"I don't like this intro, Ryuichi.
Change it right now."

And I'm like "What, now?
We're about to record!"

"I'm facing a 40-member orchestra.
I can't start rewriting now."

But then he says to me,
"Ennio Morricone would do it."

Bertolucci would say things like that.

I thought if Ennio does that,
I have no choice.

So I told the orchestra to just wait
for half an hour.

I rewrote it, said, "Ready, go!" and
that's how we recorded the intro.

It actually turned out great.

This is the French version.


And Chinese.

Paul Bowles appears in the end.

That's my favorite scene.

I just love it.

This is the part he reads in the movie.

I want to make a collage

with Paul Bowles' voice.

His words, his sentences,
spoken in many languages.

With some added sounds.
That's what I want this track to be.

I like how the words are intermingling

with the drone.

Bach wrote many hymns
called "chorales".

It is said he prayed over each note
as he wrote them.

Bach's music can be
extremely melancholic.

The melancholia was a response to
hunger, disease, and oppression.

There was an awful lot of that
in Europe back then.

"If God is still alive, then why doesn't
he intervene?"

That's perhaps what Bach felt
as he was composing.

"Why is there so much suffering?"

My awareness of environmental crises

started to trouble me around 1992.

I began to sense danger, feel alarm.

I didn't exactly know what
was dangerous, or how.

But artists and musicians tend to
sense things early,

like canaries in a coal mine,
I suppose.

The environment wasn't worsening
on its own.

There was a link to human activity.

Which means it could be fixed.

But it all depends on the choices
humans make.

My concerns began to influence
my work.

Until then, I think
I had sealed it inside.

I'd refrained from writing music
related to social or political issues.

You saw nothing in Hiroshima.

I saw it all.

Oppenheimer was the father
of the atomic bomb.

Seeing that first nuclear explosion,

he must have understood what
would happen to the world

more than anyone else.

In the 20th century, with the advent of
nuclear weapons,

we became the first species

capable of complete self-annihilation.

We sadly acquired the capacity
to destroy ourselves.

Once technology like that
is brought into existence,

it's difficult to eliminate.

The industrial revolution made

the production of an instrument
like this possible.

Several planks of wood,
six I think in this case

are overlaid and pressed into shape
by tremendous force for six months.

Nature is molded into shape.

Many tons of force and pressure
are applied,

making the strings what they are.

Matter taken from nature

is molded by human industry,
by the sum strength of civilization.

Nature is forced into shape.


the piano requires re-tuning.

We humans say it falls out of tune.

But that's not exactly accurate.

Matter is struggling to return
to a natural state.

The tsunami, in one moment,

became a force of restoration.

The tsunami piano retuned by nature

actually sounds good to me now.

In short, the piano

is tuned by force to please our ears
or ideals.

It's a condition that feels natural
to us humans.

But from Nature's perspective,
it's very unnatural.

I think deep inside me somewhere,

I have a strong aversion to that.

That's it.

I like this.

Those two notes formed
"The Revenant" theme.

They gradually become


I want to add something new here.

I like that sound.

It matches.

This one's better.

That's it.

It's great.

What is that?

The tsunami piano.

It's strangely bright, but also melancholic.

That morning, I heard an explosion.

I brought my camera out and
started to take these photos.

The twin towers that greeted me
each morning were on fire.

In front of the burning towers,
I saw birds flying.

Whether they were oblivious

or sensing a crisis, I don't know.

But that contrast between Man
and Nature

intrigued me.

What were those birds feeling
as they flew off?

Music vanished from Manhattan.

Finally a week later, I saw a young man

with a guitar in Union Square
playing Yesterday.

That was the first music I'd heard
post 9/11.

I realized then

I hadn't heard any music for a week.

Even someone like me,
constantly surrounded by music,

failed to notice the music had stopped.

People refrained from
engaging in music.

Music requires peace.

The day before the Iraq War

there was a massive protest.

Of course I took part too.

There are many divisions in the world.

Separations and gaps

between north and south,
rich and poor,

access to weapons and technology.

These hopeless "asymmetries"
you could call them

have become so widespread.

So I wanted to express the disparity.

And I landed on the word "chasm".

Why are we so violent?

Why are we like this?

It made me want to explore
where we came from.

February 8th, 2002.

We're heading to the Turkana Boy site.

It's a large lake where the oldest
human remains were found.

I saw people there living so simply.

The village was so austere.

But I loved it.
It was minimal and modest.

The view along the shore
was breathtaking.

I recorded some great sounds there.

I used them at length in my song,

"Only Love Can Conquer Hate".

Africa is a vast continent

but it has one universal rhythm pattern.

The African Exodus is said to have
started with a family of about 30.

They are our universal ancestors.
We are all "African".

So the concept of "race"
is a false construct.

The first family of about 30

shared one language, one music.

They had one mythology.
That's where we all began.

What kind of music was played?
How did it sound?

What songs were sung?
What was our first language?

I really want to know.

A friend asked if I wanted to go
to the North Pole,

to the frontlines of global warming.

I had always wanted to go.

There was a lot of snow.

I was enveloped by clouds,
and everything turned to white.

I lost all sense of direction.

It was a whiteout.

I sensed I could die at any moment.

Our destination appeared
deceptively close.

But the landscape was so vast.
It took nearly an hour to get there.

It was the sound of snow from
pre-industrial times, melting...

snow from when earth was healthier.

I like this.

It's cold.

Need to warm my hands.

It sure is chilly.

I've decided to play every day now.


I've got to keep on moving my fingers.

That's what I'll do.