Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence [Original Soundtrack]
While Sakamoto was in a world-famous band (United States excluded, alas) and had a profound and prolific solo career (US exempt as well), his most iconic piece of music remains the theme from director Nagisa Ôshima’s 1983 film, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Sakamoto acted in it across from one of his heroes, David Bowie, but their collaboration never ventured beyond the silver screen (alas). A WWII film that doubles as a landmark of queer cinema, Sakamoto’s bittersweet piano melody at the core of the movie conveys all the ache and bittersweetness of unattainable love. The use of voice and choir is poignant (see “Ride Ride Ride”), something he would return to on his later film work, but his synth washes convey darkness as well. Sakamoto would go on to score nearly 120 films, but few are as resonant as this soundtrack.
The soundtrack to the movie Sakamoto himself starred in alongside David Bowie ranks as one of the greatest scores of all time. It marked the moment when Ryuichi Sakamoto really demonstrated that he was an artist for the ages above and beyond his work with Yellow Magic Orchestra and subsequent club-friendly successes. And it’s also a defining Balearic record. You wouldn’t need to know Sakamoto had performed it live at Ibiza’s pivotal KU club in 1990 to know that its sophisticated synth work and unforgettable melodies were perfectly tuned to the (then) sophisticated club culture of the island.