Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus
Ryuichi Sakamoto, the renowned Oscar-winning composer behind the scores to Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and 2015’s The Revenant who passed away earlier this year, readies himself at the helm of his piano. As the composer begins to play, one thing is for certain: this isn’t your typical concert film, if it can even really be called that. There’s no audience for one thing; Sakamoto performs alone in an empty studio, surrounded only by the setup of lights, microphone equipment and the sheets of music that make up his life’s work.
Neo Sora, the film’s director and son of the composer, clearly isn’t interested in the traditional. There are no formal interviews, and few words are spoken throughout the film’s 100-minute runtime. Sora’s subject just sits alone at his piano, playing track after track from his repertoire, followed only by long-standing silence as we are left to ponder what we have just experienced. Sakamoto himself is free to make mistakes as he plays and, occasionally, falters, which is marked only by the deep exhale of breath from the composer. “Let’s go again,” he says, after losing his way during one performance early in the film. It’s an overtly human moment.
Sora’s camera expertly captures these images in sublime black-and-white photography, focusing his attention on Sakamoto’s displays of sincere human emotion, most often in deep, intimate close-ups. His eyes often well up as he performs, and every line of his face and hands is filled by the low-light setup that illuminates the man behind the music. Lighting here is key to Sora’s work: light can unveil the scene, or pull back the curtain; dust drifts around the screen bouncing light off individual particles; and Sakamoto’s instrument reflects the subject’s features in its polished surface. One particular sequence has Sakamoto engulfed in darkness, set adrift in performance. It’s a masterful setup, and as Sora’s camera slowly pulls in towards its subject, we too become lost in the music as Sakamoto plays just for us.
The feature ends on a note of transcendent hope as Sakamoto’s Yamaha piano, guided by an invisible hand, plays out the film’s final composition: a rendition of Opus. As the credits roll and the sound of distant footsteps draw further and further away, Sora delivers a clear message: the man may have given his final bow, but the music will forever live on.
Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus does not have a UK release date yet.
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