New documentary Coda unravels the inner philosophy of Ryuichi Sakamoto
In Stephen Nomura Schible’s documentary, contemporary musician Ryuichi Sakamoto finds a damaged piano in a school struck by the 2011 tsunami in Japan. “I felt as if I was playing the corpse of a piano that had drowned,” he says.
Death and destruction are major themes in Coda. From Sakamoto’s auspicious beginnings as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra, through his celebrated soundtrack work up to his current resurgence as an ambient giant, the documentary explores Sakamoto’s decade-spanning career, while demonstrating how events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, global warming and nuclear power have influenced his work.
Instead of showing these events in chronological order, Schible’s approach is more organic. Much like the way memory operates, in snapshot recollections or topical associations, Coda weaves itself from event to event, focusing on ideas and concepts. In one scene, Sakamoto speaks of how he wants to make music that sounds like the score for an Andrei Tarkovsky film that doesn’t exist, while in another, he is in the restricted zone of damaged nuclear reactor Fukushima – itself reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s film Stalker.
Elsewhere, Sakamoto “fishes for sound” by lowering a microphone into the water to capture the sound of melting ice in Antarctica, while back in his New York basement studio, he runs a violin bow across a hi-hat cymbal to create an unsettling sound. Underpinning these events are the words of The Sheltering Sky author Paul Bowles and “father of the atomic bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer. The line between beauty and destruction is a thin one, and it’s a recurring theme in Sakamoto’s work.
Although much of Sakamoto’s personal life is left untouched, Coda gives an in-depth account of the Oscar-winning musician’s creative process and inner-philosophy across many decades and key events, making it integral watching for any ambient head.