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Venice Film Festival: Ryuichi Sakamoto’s last performance captured by son in Opus

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO himself in Ryuichi Sakamoto Opus. — IMDB

VENICE — In late 2022 celebrated Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, stricken with terminal cancer, spent nine days at a Tokyo studio performing 20 of his much-loved pieces from across his career.

The pared-back performance, featuring just Mr. Sakamoto and his piano, was captured by his son, Neo Sora, and turned into a concert film Opus which is screening at the Venice Film Festival some six months after the 71-year-old composer died.

“His physical health was definitely deteriorating and it was impossible for him to go on tour and even play a full concert live in front of an audience. But he still wanted to make sure to leave something before he couldn’t play any longer,” Mr. Sora told Reuters in Venice following the film’s world premiere.

The Oscar and Grammy-winning composer is best known for his movie scores for The Last Emperor and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, which he also acted in, as well as his work with the pioneering electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), which he co-founded.

Filmed in black and white, Opus focuses on the physicality of Mr. Sakamoto’s performance. The selection of music and their order in the film were decided by the musician himself.

Mr. Sora, director of photography Bill Kirstein and their team filmed an average of three pieces per day in one to three takes.

The meticulously performed and otherwise wordless film features a scene in which Mr. Sakamoto is preparing to play an early career hit, the fast-tempoed “Tong Poo,” and acknowledges his physical limits. “This is tough. I’m pushing myself,” he says.

“He isn’t able to play it really fast anymore and so he had to resort to different kinds of musical methods and musical ideas to communicate the songs in the way he could. And I think especially for fans who know that song really well, that must be really touching,” said Mr. Sora.

“Once he begins to play, you kind of forget that because the performance is just full of life and energy,” the filmmaker said, adding that he had mixed feelings about presenting the film at Venice, which his father attended several times.

“Of course, it’s a little bit bittersweet, but at the same time I think it’s a celebration of his life. I think he would be really proud and happy that this film is here.” — Reuters

Neil Banzuelo

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