Ryûichi Sakamoto, born (January 17, 1952, Nakano, Tokyo, Japan) is an Academy Award-winning, Grammy-winning, Golden Globe-winning Japanese musician, composer, producer and actor, based in New York and Tokyo.
Sakamoto attended the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where he earned a B.A. in music composition and an M.A. with special emphasis on both electronic and ethnic music.
After working as a session musician, he formed the internationally successful synthpop trio Yellow Magic Orchestra, with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi.
Sakamoto released his first solo album, The Thousand Knives of Ryûichi Sakamoto, in 1978. The album includes the songs "Thousand Knives" and "The End of Asia."
Following the disbanding of Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto released a number of solo albums in the 1980s. While primarily focused on the piano and synthesizer, this series of albums boasted a roster of collaborators that included David Sylvian, David Byrne, Thomas Dolby, Nam June Paik, and Iggy Pop, among others. Sakamoto would alternate between exploring a variety of musical styles, ideas, and genres - captured most notably in his groundbreaking 1983 album Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia - and focusing on a specific subject or theme, such as the Italian Futurism movement in Futurista (1986). At times, Sakamoto would also present varying interpretations of technology's intersection with music: he would present some pieces, such as "Replica," with Kraftwerkian rigidity and order, while he would infuse humanity and humor into others - "Broadway Boogie Woogie," for example, liberally lifts samples from Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner and pairs them with a raucous, sax-driven techno-pop backdrop.
As his solo career began to extend outside Japan in the late 1980s, Sakamoto's explorations, influences, and collaborators followed suit. Beauty (1989) boasted a tracklist that combined pop and traditional Japanese and Okinawan songs, yet featured guest appearances by Jill Jones, Brian Wilson, and Robbie Robertson. Heartbeat (1991) and Sweet Revenge (1994), meanwhile, looked to international horizons and worked with a global range of artists such as Dee Dee Brave, Marco Prince, Arto Lindsay, Youssou N'Dour, David Sylvian, and Ingrid Chavez. 1996 saw the appearance of two notable albums: Smoochy, which fused pop and electronica with bossanova and other South American forms, and 1996, which featured a number of previously released pieces arranged for solo piano, accompanied with violin and cello.
Following 1996, Sakamoto simultaneously delved into the classical and "post-techno" genres with Discord (1998), an hour-long orchestral work in four parts. Here he evoked the melodic qualities of his film score work, imbued with the influence of 20th century classical composers and spoken word. The Sony Classical release also featured an interactive CD-ROM component and website that complemented the work. Shortly thereafter, the Ninja Tune record label released a series of remixes of various sections, produced by a number of prominent electronica artists, including Amon Tobin, Talvin Singh and DJ Spooky.
The next album, BTTB (1998) - an acronym for "Back to the Basics" - was a fairly opaque reaction to the prior year's multilayered, lushly orchestrated Discord. The album comprised a series of original pieces on solo piano, including "Energy Flow" (a major hit in Japan) and a frenetic, four-hand arrangement of the Yellow Magic Orchestra classic "Tong Poo." On the BTTB U.S. tour, he opened the show performing a brief avant-garde DJ set under the stage name DJ Lovegroove.
1999 saw the long-awaited release of Sakamoto's 'opera' entitled "LIFE." It premiered with seven sold-out performances in Tokyo and Osaka. This ambitious multi-genre multi-media project featured contributions by over 100 performers, including Pina Bausch, Bernardo Bertolucci, José Carreras, His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Salman Rushdie.
Sakamoto later teamed with cellist Jaques Morelenbaum (a member of his 1996 trio), and Morelenbaum's wife, Paula, on a pair of albums celebrating the work of jazz pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim. They recorded their first album, Casa (2001), mostly in Jobim's home studio in Rio de Janeiro, with Sakamoto performing on the late Jobim's grand piano. The album was well received, having been included in the list of New York Times's top albums of 2002.
Recently, Sakamoto collaborated with Alva Noto (an alias of Carsten Nicolai) to release Vrioon, an album of Sakamoto's piano clusters treated by Nicolai's unique style of digital manipulation, involving the creation of "micro-loops" and minimal percussion. The two produced this work by passing the pieces back and forth until both were satisfied with the result. This debut, released on German label Raster-Noton, was voted record of the year 2004 in the electronica category by British magazine The Wire. They later released Insen (2005) - while produced in a similar manner to Vrioon, this album is somewhat more restrained and minimalist.
Meanwhile, Sakamoto continues to craft music to suit any context: in 2005, Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Nokia hired Sakamoto to compose ring and alert tones for their high-end phone, the Nokia 8800. A recent reunion with YMO pals Hosono and Takahashi also caused a stir in the Japanese press. They released a single "Rescue" in 2007 and a DVD "HAS/YMO" in 2008.