Born: Jan 17, 1952 in Tokyo, Japan
Styles: Movie Themes, Experimental, Ethnic Fusion, Progressive Electronic
Instruments: Vocals, Leader, Keyboards, Composer, Arranger, Piano
The driving force behind "Neo Geo" - a cutting-edge fusion combining Asian and Western classical music with other global textures and rhythms - pioneering electronic composer Ryuichi Sakamoto was among the most innovative artists to emerge during the 1980s. Born January 17, 1952 in Tokyo, he took up piano at the age of three, and regularly performed in jazz bands while in high school. Sakamoto's catholic musical tastes exposed him to everyone from the Beatles to Beethoven and John Cage, and he was also heavily influenced by avant-garde filmmaking; he went on to study electronic music at Tokyo's University of Art, and after graduating formed the techno-pop trio Yellow Magic Orchestra. Informed by the robotic iconography of Kraftwerk, the YMO became massive stars in their native Japan; their 1980 single "Computer Game (Theme from 'The Invaders')" even reached the Top 20 in Britain.
While still in the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto also issued his first solo effort, 1978's Thousand Knives of Asia; two years later he returned with B-2 Unit, and the vast differences between the two discs gave a clear indication of the mercurial eclecticism which would define the remainder of his work. After the YMO's 1983 breakup, Sakamoto pursued his solo career full-time, achieving his artistic and commercial breakthrough that same year with his acclaimed score to the film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (in which he also acted). The soundtrack also marked one of several collaborations between Sakamoto and David Sylvian, just of one his many intriguing musical unions; other performers with whom he worked included Thomas Dolby (on 1986's Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia), Iggy Pop, Bootsy Collins and Tony Williams (on 1988's Neo Geo), and David Byrne, with whom he co-wrote the Academy Award-winning score to the 1987 film The Last Emperor.
Other works of note include the score to Pedro Almadovar's High Heels and 1990's Beauty, Sakamoto's English-language debut, which featured cameos from Brian Wilson and Robbie Robertson. In 1993, he joined a reunited Yellow Magic Orchestra to record the LP Technodon, and in 1998 returned with Discord, his first work of classical music. Pre Life in Progress followed a year later, as did The Complete Index of Gut. Sakamoto remained a prolific force in the next decade as well, issuing Intimate in early 1999.
- Jason Ankeny (All Music Guide)