8 Of the most beautiful Ryuichi Sakamoto film scores

3 min read

8 Of the most beautiful Ryuichi Sakamoto film scores
To mark the upcoming release of the film Monster, featuring the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, we celebrate some of the late composer's greatest movie scores 
At the age of 71, Ryuichi Sakamoto, the legendary Academy Award-winning Japanese composer known for his contributions to electronic pop music and the film industry in both the East and the West, passed away on March 28, 2023, after battling cancer. Despite his illness, Sakamoto continued to produce music throughout much of his life, showcasing remarkable dedication to his craft. His legacy as one of the most accomplished and revered composers in cinema will undoubtedly endure, leaving behind a profound impact on the world of music and film.
Monster was the last film for which he provided original music, and in line with the film’s upcoming UK and Irish cinema release on March 15, we reflect on Sakamoto's illustrious career and go through some of his most remarkable scores.

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence

In a remarkable debut as both an actor and a composer, Sakamoto showcased his multifaceted talent in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. His iconic score for the film remains a standout in his career, earning him the prestigious BAFTA award for Best Film Music in 1984. Through his music, Sakamoto captured the essence of the film's themes with remarkable poise and elegance, solidifying his status as a visionary composer.

The Last Emperor

Introduced to director Bernardo Bertolucci at the Cannes Film Festival, Sakamoto embarked on a historic collaboration that would result in The Last Emperor. Despite the tight deadline, Sakamoto rose to the occasion, delivering an Oscar-winning score within a week. His music not only complemented the film's grandeur but also elevated its storytelling to new heights. The Last Emperor stands as a testament to Sakamoto's ability to thrive under pressure, leaving an indelible mark on cinematic music history.

The Sheltering Sky

Reuniting with Bertolucci three years after The Last Emperor, Sakamoto once again demonstrated his unparalleled skill as a composer in The Sheltering Sky. His score, characterised by its haunting beauty and ethereal quality, perfectly complemented the film's existential themes and hypnotic atmosphere. Recognised with a Golden Globe for Best Original Score in 1987, Sakamoto's music played a crucial role in shaping the emotional landscape of the film, further solidifying his reputation as a master of his craft.

Snake Eyes

Following his collaboration with Danny Elfman for Mission: Impossible, director Brian De Palma approached Sakamoto for his next thriller, Snake Eyes. For Sakamoto, it was another mainstream Hollywood project that helped raise his profile, ten years after Oscar win for The Last Emperor. However, opinions differ on Sakamoto’s work on the film, with its disparate sound-to-image arrangement.
De Palma’s visual flair often does not fit with Sakamoto’s classical, measured score, although champions of the music appreciate this juxtaposing aspect. So while the score is not one of Sakamoto’s most well-known, it fits beautifully within his oeuvre, and highlights his popularity within Hollywood.

Wuthering Heights

For its sweeping, soulful adaptation, director Peter Kosminsky recruited Sakamoto to write a classical score befitting the infamous love story. Known for its beautiful and haunting tone, Sakamoto’s music is a fan favourite. Difficult to come by in the UK, the score has garnered an almost cult following among film, and specifically Sakamoto, fans. “Sweeping” is an oft-used term for historical epics, but that certainly rings true for both the film and the music, with an elegant, elegiac set of tracks making up for the film’s soundtrack.

The Revenant

Led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Iñárritu's The Revenant stands as a gritty masterpiece, and Sakamoto's contribution to the film is nothing short of extraordinary. With a keen understanding of the film's raw intensity, Sakamoto crafted a soundtrack that immerses the audience in the harsh landscapes of the 19th-century American frontier. Through creative use of natural sounds, Sakamoto's score enhances the visceral experience of the film, earning its place as one of cinema's most powerful soundtracks.

After Yang

Indie darling, After Yang, had its main theme (“Memory Bank”) created by Sakamoto, with the full score handled by Aska Matsumiya. A memorable, main theme is familiar territory for Sakamoto after Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and the chord progressions of Memory Bank’s the four-minute hark back to that arrangement. Much like the film’s dance sequence that starts the film, the main theme relies on repetition and release, with a lush piano melody snapping into a full string arrangement.


Described as his "cinematic swansong," Monster serves as a poignant testament to Sakamoto's talent and resilience. Despite battling cancer, Sakamoto poured his heart and soul into this posthumous score, collaborating with the renowned filmmaker and fellow countryman Hirokazu Kore-eda to create a work of unparalleled complexity and emotion. Widely lauded, Monster stands as a testament to Sakamoto's mastery of his craft, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest composers of his generation.
Banner image via Sturm, Wiki Commons
MONSTER is out in UK and Irish cinemas on March 15. For more information, go to monsteruk.film

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