Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Opus’ review: a man alone with a piano and his genius

Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Opus’ review: a man alone with a piano and his genius

“I need a break,” sighs Ryuichi Sakamoto between takes on Opus, his hauntingly beautiful final performance that’s been immortalised as a feature-length film. “This is tough – I’m pushing myself.”

It’s the only sign throughout the Neo Sora-directed film that he may be struggling. Before the composer lost his battle with cancer in March 2023, Sakamoto found himself too unwell to perform. Everything he had left went into this – one last portrait of a man, his piano and his genius.

READ MORE: Ryuichi Sakamoto, 1952-2023: an inimitable sonic innovator

Sakamoto selected these 20 songs, knowing that this would be his last goodbye and swansong. “The project was conceived as a way to record my performances – while I was still able to perform – in a way that is worth preserving for the future,” he said in a statement prepared prior to his passing. “In some sense, while thinking of this as my last opportunity to perform, I also felt that I was able to break new grounds. Simply playing a few songs a day with a lot of concentration was all I could muster at this point in my life.”

Pulling from his work with pop pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra through to his many film scores and final album ‘12’, Sakamoto carves out a career-spanning setlist that not only showcases his breathtaking catalogue, but the arc of a life well lived. Every piece was performed at his own home and – staggeringly – recorded on an iPhone. The camera positions and lighting subtly change throughout to show the move from morning to night. If you thought that Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer live film of the Bad Seed alone in Alexandra Palace showed an artist stripped bare, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This is a man inviting you into his 11th hour, and giving you all he has left.

You can see the dedication on his face as he squeezes out every ounce of feeling from each press of a piano key. Just the sight of his iconic glasses resting on sheet music is enough to bring a tear to your eye, but the tenderness with which he plays ‘Andata’ and ‘Bibo No Aozora’ is even more affecting. Just as they did for the films they were originally written for, ‘The Last Emperor’ and ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ create whole new worlds at the tips of Sakamoto’s fingers – blockbusters in their own right.

Ryuichi Sakamoto in ‘Opus’. Credit: Modern Films

It’s one gut-punch after another when you realise what it means as Sakamoto lets every note breathe until it fades out. The work presented is an opus, and this is as intimate and human a concert film as you’ll ever see. As with his recent posthumous mixed-reality gigs in London and his final film score on Monster, Opus is yet another priceless gift from a once-in-a-lifetime talent – and a reminder of what we’ve lost. Goodbye maestro – and thank you.


Director: Neo Sora
Release date: March 29 (in cinemas)

The post Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Opus’ review: a man alone with a piano and his genius appeared first on NME.

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