Film & TV

Film Review: Ryuichi Sakamoto-Opus

Master Ryuichi Sakamoto’s final testament and musical memoire, lovingly filmed by his director son, Neo Sora.

Exquisitely beautiful and surprisingly moving.

Before his untimely death in March 2023, master composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto wanted to give the world one last performance. Unable to tour or even perform live due to final-stage cancer, he booked what he regarded as the best recording studio in Japan, NHK’s 509 Studio in Tokyo, brought in his beloved Yamaha piano, and performed alone for a small film crew. Heading up that crew was his son, Neo Sora. His partner and manager, Norika Sora was involved in production.

With little soundtrack other than Sakamoto’s playing, shot entirely in black and white, and with no dialogue, Opus is a minimalistically beautiful piece of cinema. There is no narrative, no voice-over, and no titling of the pieces, until the final credits. Nothing distracts from Sakamoto and his piano. Sora shoots from various angles, but without any tricksy shots. He very much places himself in the role of observer, but also of loving son, watching his father in the last phases of his life. Sakamoto was so ill he was only able to record a few songs every day. We sense his struggle, and his determination to leave this final testament. Every scene is slow, respectful, and imbued with pathos, but also celebratory. Once in a while Sora captures a tiny moment: Sakamoto tuning his piano, or muttering slightly under his breath. These small gestures of humanness add to the depth of Opus as a film.

With pieces written over several decades, including some of his award-winning music for films such as The Last Emperor and Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, Opus becomes a musical autobiography, and a moving farewell.

In itself, Opus is a beautiful piece of film, which transcend the documentary genre. It is a love-letter from Sakamoto to the world, and from Sora to his father. It is both a resounding finale, and an adoring elegy.

Ryuichi Sakamoto-Opus opens on May 4th.

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