I am not sure how old I was the first time I watched Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, but I remember being entranced by the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto. Quite young, I think. I was traumatised by the scene where David Bowie is buried in sand up to his neck. Dad loves David Bowie, music, and Japan. He also loves movies. Good movies, old movies, art house movies. For me, this movie was all about the music. The haunting, atmospheric, beautiful music. I was in awe of a composer who could add so much beauty to such a horrific situation, a Prisoner of War camp in WWII.
When Super Sake Boy confessed to me that he had not seen the movie, I insisted on playing the soundtrack to him. Within the first two bars, I am always in tears. The title track is able to liquify me in moments. We listened. He loved it. He was drawn to research Ryuichi Sakamoto, the composer. A new love triangle was born between Ryuichi, Super Sake Boy and myself. I had not realised the breadth of his work.
He has composed Academy Award winning soundtracks, making awesome music since the late 70s. Ryuichi is an activist, an environmentalist, an artist and an amazing human. He records sounds, all kinds of sounds from everyday life. Rain, snow melting in the North Pole (water that no one has ever heard before), different objects hitting other objects. He explained in the film how a piano is made by applying enormous amounts of pressure onto wood to bend it into the correct shape. Over time the piano falls out of tune and must be re-tuned often. However, he sees this as the piano trying to revert to its natural state.
Alas, I am wondering off topic. I set out to write about the amazing documentary we watched last week about Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA. It was not at all what I was expecting. The movie opened in the Fukushima exclusion zone. Not far from the Daiichi Power Plant. Ryuichi was suited up and wondering through the area that nature has begun to reclaim, with a Geiger Counter. It was bleak and it was intense. He spoke about his treatment for throat cancer, and he played an old piano which had been submerged in water after the tsunami. It was very out of tune and the sound was chilling. Then, footage of Ryuichi and two other musicians playing Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence in the hall of Rikuzentakata Daiichi Junior High School, as a tsunami and nuclear disaster memorial. The complete piece.
I usually get quite teary. I sometimes struggle to talk without my voice waivering. This experience was on another level. I was sobbing in the cinema. Trying very hard to regulate my breathing, unsuccessfully. I had tears running down my face, and my body was heaving with the effort to try to stay quiet and not interrupt everyone else’s viewing pleasure. My chest was aching like my heart would break. Trying to describe my love for this piece of music is difficult. Music defies words and description. It ellicts feelings and memories and sometimes strong emotions. I searched my being during the music to try to figure out why it has such an impact on me.
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence
Listening to Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence almost has the same affect on me as imaging myself in Kyoto. My favourite places, the way I feel whole and complete when I am there. The intense desire and longing that I have for Japan is almost tangible, almost describable through the sound of this music. It conjures memories of feelings from my childhood of what I thought Japan would be like. It also makes me think of the bond I shared with my Dad. It’s nostalgic, it so beautiful and I will never tire of hearing it. The lilting piano, the gentleness, the heart wrenching desolation of it…
Image credit Amazon.com
I highly recommend seeing the movie “Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA”. It is beautifully filmed and immensely interesting and scored by the subject himself. He also wrote the music for The Last Emperor, The Revenant, Babel, The Sheltering Sky and The Adventures of Milo and Otis amongst many others, as well as albums with his band Yellow Magic Orchestra and solo work. A true genius, in every sense of the word. And a humble, friendly and very funky guy…..
Featured Image Credit: sitesakamoto.com
Read more about my love for Ryuichi Sakamoto in The Enduring Exploits of Super Sake Boy and Nihonshu Girl.