Legendary composer and Yellow Magic Orchestra founder Ryuichi Sakamoto dies aged 71

The prolific musician was famed for scoring Hollywood films such as “The Last Emperor”, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and more.

Ryuichi Sakamoto

Image: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

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Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Oscar-winning Japanese composer and founder of pioneering electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra, has died at the age of 71.

“He lived with music until the very end,” Sakamoto’s team said in a statement, adding that his passing (28 March) came after years of battling cancer.

“We would like to express our deepest gratitude to his fans and all those who have supported his activities, as well as the medical professionals in Japan and the U.S. who did everything in their power to cure him,”

“In accordance with Sakamoto’s strong wishes, the funeral service was held among his close family members.”

“We would like to share one of Sakamoto’s favourite quotes: ‘Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short,” the statement read.

In addition to scoring Hollywood films like The Last Emperor and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Sakamoto’s prolific career extends to his work with the electro-pop band Yellow Music Orchestra.

Formed in 1978 by Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Haruomi Hosono, the group — famed for their groundbreaking use of electronic instruments — was a major force in influencing early hip-hop and techno. With Sakamoto playing keyboards, and all three members on vocals, YMO went on to become one of Japan’s most domestically and internationally successful bands.

Sakamoto, who once described classical musician Claude Debussy as his hero, told WNYC public radio in 2010, “Asian music heavily influenced Debussy, and Debussy heavily influenced me. So the music goes around the world and comes full circle.”

In 2017 — three years into his battle with throat cancer — Sakamoto released a lush ambient album titled async. The record, composed of strange interpretations of familiar musical instruments, sounds from field recordings of city life, and samples of recordings of artists such as David Sylvian doing readings, was met with critical acclaim, ranking in the top five of Billboard’s American Top Classical Albums chart.

The composer announced that he had been diagnosed with rectal cancer in early 2021, and in December 2022, gave what was clearly meant to be a farewell concert for his fans.

“I don’t have the energy to do live concerts… This might be the last time that you will see me perform in this manner,” Sakamoto said of the livestream show, which featured individually recorded songs edited together into the format of a regular concert.

Ryuichi’s latest and final solo album, 12, was also previewed at the end of the concert.

Tributes from around the world have poured in following Sakamoto’s passing.

“thank you @ryuichisakamoto for more than I could ever explain in words,” Oneohtrix Point Never tweeted, while The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr remembered the man as an “elegant and timeless artist.”

Read more tributes below:

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