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Oscar winning composer of The Last Emperor score dies aged 71

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Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Japanese musician and actor who composed for Hollywood hits such as The Last Emperor and The Revenant, has died aged 71.

His recording company Avex said in a statement on Sunday Mr Sakamoto died on 28 March while undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

He was first diagnosed in 2014 and last year revealed he had received a terminal diagnosis, having disclosed he was also suffering from rectal cancer in 2021.

Mr Sakamoto was a pioneer of electronic music in the late 1970s and founded the Yellow Magic Orchestra, also known as YMO, with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi.

Despite dealing with cancer, he released a full-length album on his 71st birthday in January, saying composing had a “small healing effect on my damaged body and soul,” according to the official statement released with the latest album.

A world-class musician, he won an Oscar and Grammy for the 1987 movie The Last Emperor.

He was also an actor, starring in the BAFTA-winning 1983 film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

He was mostly based in New York in recent years, though he regularly visited Japan.

Born in Tokyo in 1952, Mr Sakamoto began studying music at the age of 10 and said he was influenced by Debussy and The Beatles.

Ryuichi Sakamoto
Image:
Ryuichi Sakamoto

Avex said despite his sickness, when he was feeling relatively well, he kept working on his music in his home studio. “To his final days, he lived with music,” the firm’s statement said.

The statement also expressed gratitude to the doctors who had treated him in the US and Japan, as well as to all his fans around the world.

It referenced the words Sakamoto loved – “Ars longa, vita brevis” – which refers to the longevity of art, no matter how short human life might be.

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Mr Sakamoto also left his mark as a pacifist and environmental activist. He spoke out against nuclear power following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami.

He took part in rallies and made speeches in Tokyo, and was among a group of respected Japanese artists, like the Nobel-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe, who were not afraid to take an unpopular stand on political issues.

Funeral services have been held with family and close friends, the Avex statement said.

Mr Sakamoto is survived by his daughter Miu Sakamoto, who is also a musician.

She posted on her Instagram the years her father had lived – from 17 January 1952, to 28 March 2023 – and a photo of a worn-out, half-broken piano.

He was separated from his former wife, singer and composer Akiko Yano.

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