×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda’

The Oscar-winning Japanese composer is profiled in a handsome, intriguing if not particularly insightful documentary.

Director:
Stephen Nomura Schible
With:
Ryuichi Sakamoto. (Japanese, English dialogue.)
Release Date:
Jul 6, 2018

1 hour 41 minutes

Admirers of the highly respected Japanese musician (and occasional actor) will enjoy “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda,” a leisurely look at a multi-talent best known in the west for composing memorable original scores for directors from Bertolucci and Oshima to Inarritu and Miike. Stephen Nomura Schible shot this documentary over a five-year span, during which Sakamoto survived a serious cancer scare. That lends some drama to a tastefully elegiac portrait that otherwise demurs from any discussion of its protagonist’s personal life or background. Those not already acquainted will also have to look elsewhere for any general overview of his career or influences, a foreknowledge assumed here.

The result won’t hold much appeal for those requiring an introduction, but should please fans with its drifting, lyrical, and thoughtful tenor, echoing so much of this artist’s music. U.S. distributor MUBI will mostly be preaching to the converted with a single-screen theatrical launch this weekend at Lincoln Center, followed by streaming release.

Then 60, his floppy bangs already silver, Sakamoto is first glimpsed here in 2012, tracking down a piano he’d heard survived the earthquake-triggered tsunami of the prior year (from what it sounds like, after being “swept away” but left more-or-less intact). The Fukushima nuclear accident occasioned by those natural disasters ramped up his anti-nuke political activism. But all that — and most professional pursuits — got put on hold when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer in 2014.

We get a feel for how this emergency heightened the artist’s sense of fragility and temporality, not just in personal terms but in the bigger picture of national and global environmental issues. This seems connected to his interest in ambient sounds and their combination with man-made ones, as exemplified by that water-damaged grand piano. Seeking further inspiration for his own new music, he also becomes fixated on the use of Bach organ chorales in Tarkovsky’s original “Solaris,” seen in several excerpts here.

The doc then appears to go in a standard, backtracking biographical direction, albeit very spottily via select archival clips. We see part of a 1979 performance (whose synthy disco-prog-jazz hasn’t dated well) by Yellow Magic Orchestra, but get no contextualizing on how they and member Sakamoto in particular laid path to a great deal of later electropop and dance music. His prodigious soundtrack work is represented by just three films here: Oshima’s 1983 “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” in which he also played a leading role; and two by Bertolucci, “The Last Emperor” (for which he won his Oscar, and in fact only nomination to date) and “The Sheltering Sky.” Anecdotes about these working experiences are revealing, particularly when we learn that alarmingly short-notice requests by Bertolucci and his producer Jeremy Thomas resulted in some of Sakamoto’s finest compositions.

But such insights are few. Mostly Schible is content to show the subject puttering around his various homes (including a New York City one where he had full view of the Twin Towers on 9/11), taking his quest for musical knowledge to a few exotic locales (such as the Arctic Circle), and musing philosophically on various topics. He’s intelligent and personable, to be sure. But this is the kind of movie too awed by its subject to dare getting very close to him. We’re given to understand that Sakamoto went out on a limb, perhaps risking his health after a long forced layoff to score Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” (“I couldn’t bring myself to say no, I admire him too much,” he confesses). Yet with no other interviewees offering commentary (a few additional luminaries show up in archival footage), and the film’s somewhat hazy, amorphous structure, we just have to take it on faith that he’s weathered an ordeal and is now as busy as ever. “Coda” ends up a strange title for a portrait of a man who it turns out is by no means finished yet, creatively or otherwise.

In synch with the dolorous, melancholy tilt of his best-regarded film music, Schible and his collaborators provide a meditative pace and some lovely outdoor photography. It’s a handsomely crafted portrait overall, yet one whose middleweight content flatters the subject without ultimately quite doing him justice.

Film Review: 'Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, July 4, 2018. (In Venice, Tokyo, Tribeca, CPH:DOX film festivals.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.S.-Japan) A MUBI release of a Kadosawa, Alex Digital, Dentsu Music & Entertainment presentation of a Cineric, Borderland Media production. Producers: Stephen Nomura Schible, Eric Nyari, Yoshiko Hasimoto. Executive producers: Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, Hisaou Wakaizumi, Shuichi Machida, Norika Sora. Co-producers: Hajime Yoda, Takeo Kodera.

Crew: Director: Stephen Nomura Schible. Camera (color, HD): Neo S. Sora, Tom Richmond. Editors: Hisayo Kushida, Yuji Oshige. Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto.

With: Ryuichi Sakamoto. (Japanese, English dialogue.)

More Film

  • Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy

    The Most Memorable Oscar Speeches in Academy History (Watch)

    No Academy Awards is complete without some emotional acceptance speeches on stage – and some political ones to boot. With just 90 seconds to make an impact, many actors have used the platform as a voice for political change, calling attention to hot-button issues like climate change and gender equality, while others have simply reveled [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Arrested, in Custody of Chicago Police

    Jussie Smollett has been arrested and faces criminal charges for allegedly filing a false police report and for disorderly conduct. Chicago police tweeted Thursday morning that the “Empire” actor was under arrest and in custody of detectives. Smollett claimed that he had been attacked by two men on Jan. 29 — he said they beat [...]

  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959, born Eleanora Fagan)

    Billie Holiday Documentary Draws Buyers as Concord Boards Project

    Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday Estate, has boarded James Erskine’s documentary “Billie,” which tracks the iconic jazz singer’s life. Altitude Film Sales has sold the project to several territories. Also joining the project, now in post-production, is the Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral. Most of the filmed and still images that exist of [...]

  • My Extraordinary Summer With Tess review

    Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess'

    Winner of a special mention from the Berlinale Generation KPlus’ adult jury, the family-friendly, light drama “My Extraordinary Summer With Tess” is straightforward youth cinema with surprising emotional depth. Based on a prize-winning novel by Anna Woltz, a beloved Dutch writer of work for young readers, it explores family relationships and emphasizes the importance of [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • Ghost Fleet review

    Film Review: 'Ghost Fleet'

    The revelatory documentary “Ghost Fleet” condemns the modern-day slave labor fueling the Thai fishing industry while focusing on the work of Bangkok-based advocacy organization Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), a group dedicated to ending slavery at sea. Combining chilling testimony from formerly enslaved men, some wincingly arty recreations of their ordeals, and on-the-ground footage [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    WGA Plans March 25 Member Vote on Talent Agency Rules

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America plan a March 25 vote for members to decide whether to implement tough new restrictions on how Hollywood talent agencies as operate as agents for writer clients. The vote comes as the guild is in the midst of pitched negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents to renew [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content