Japanese Icon Ryuichi Sakamoto Passes Away at 71

by Michael Nguyen
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Ryuichi Sakamoto, a Japanese musician and actor popular around the world for composing the music of Hollywood movies such as “The Last Emperor” and “The Revenant”, sadly passed away last Sunday at the age of 71.

Avex, a recording company in Japan, reported that he died while receiving treatment for cancer. He had first been diagnosed with throat cancer back in 2014, but then in 2021 it was uncovered that his illness had become much worse – he was now suffering from terminal cancer.

Sakamoto was a leader in electronic music during the late 1970s, and together with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, he formed what is known as the Yellow Magic Orchestra, or YMO. Unfortunately, Takahashi passed away this January.

Despite having cancer, Sakamoto still put out an album titled “12” on his 71st birthday. In an official statement released alongside of the album, Sakamoto said that creating music had a calming effect on him even though he was suffering from his illness.

Ryuichi Sakamoto was a famous musician from Tokyo, Japan. He was born in 1952 and started learning music at 10 years old. He was influenced by Debussy and the Beatles. In 1987, he won an Oscar and Grammy for creating music for the movie “The Last Emperor”. Three years before that, he also starred in the British movie “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”, which won him a BAFTA award. Recently, he mostly stayed in New York but still visited Japan from time to time.

Sakamoto kept making music in his home studio even when he was not feeling well. His statement expressed appreciation for the doctors who treated him and thanked his fans from all over the world. He also mentioned a famous phrase – “Ars longa, vita brevis” which means that art can last forever, no matter how short our lives may be.

Sakamoto was a famous pacifist and environmental activist. After an earthquake caused a tsunami which destroyed the nuclear plant in Fukushima, he spoke out against nuclear power. He attended rallies and made speeches in Tokyo to express his opinion, together with other great Japanese artists like Kenzaburo Oe who had courage to stand up for what they believe is right, even if it wasn’t popular among many people.

In July 2012, he got on stage and warned Japan to not sacrifice people’s lives for electricity from his iPhone notes. He then said in both Japanese and English: “Keeping quiet about the Fukushima disaster is wrong.” Additionally, he promoted Nissan electric cars even though other people criticized him for it. To get power at his home in New York, he chose a company that uses only renewable energy sources.

In an interview in 2012, Sakamoto said that the ways we use to generate electricity are changing from fossil fuel and nuclear power to other options. He added that he wants people to be able to select what kind of energy they would like to produce. There have also been a simple memorial gathering with family and close friends, according to the Avex statement.

Miu Sakamoto, the daughter of the late Sakamoto, shared how long he lived – from 1952 to 2021 – and a photo of a worn-out piano on her Instagram. Before his death, he was separated from his ex-wife Akiko Yano who is a singer and composer.

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