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Coda: Ryuichi Sakamoto Documentary at S.F. Japan Film Festival

September 18, 2018

What is an Oscar-winning composer doing completely encased in a white protective suit, in the restricted contaminated zone of the tsunami-destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant?

Watch the opening scene of the film Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda and you will know. This featured presentation at the sixth San Francisco Japan Film Festival, Sept. 28–Oct. 7, documents the life and work of one the most multifaceted contemporary composers.

Sakamoto’s four-decades-long career includes techno-pop stardom, three dozen albums, and acclaimed film music that earned him an Oscar and a Golden Globe for The Last Emperor and a Golden Globe for The Revenant. Sakamoto received a Japanese Academy Award for his score to Nagisa Oshima’s wartime film, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. He also acted in that movie in the role of Captain Yonoi, the officer running a brutal prison camp.

Now the composer is rapidly becoming an iconic figure in Japan’s social movement against nuclear power. The new film tracks all this and more. Directed by Stephen Nomura Schible, Coda has received reviews such as the New York Times’s acknowledgment of “an uncommonly engaging artist portrait.”

“The creative process is notoriously difficult to capture on camera,” wrote Ben Kenigsberg, “but by the end of this documentary, you will feel as if you not only understand Mr. Sakamoto intellectually, but also share a sense of the excitement he feels when discovering just the right match of sounds.”

Another of the festival’s films with music as its subject is J-POP legend Namie Amuro’s final live tour, titled Finally. Its screening at the Japan Film Festival will be the film’s first U.S. appearance, say the organizers. According to them, Finally documents “one of the biggest events ever in Japan as Amuro, who shocked the world by announcing her retirement last year [at age 39] went on her final tours,” including the one in Tokyo Dome which is shown in the film, which captures all 30 songs performed in a 2 ½-hour long concert.

Of special interest are a film adaptation of Ryotaro Shiba’s best-selling novel, The Battle of Sekigahara, in the greatest conflict of the Warring States Period; A Tale of Love and Honor: Life in Gion, about a 200-year-old special tea house in Kyoto, always run by women; and Kurara: the Dazzling Life of Hokusai’s Daughter, about O-Ei, a prominent painter on her own, and daughter of one of Japan’s greatest artists.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].