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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Ryuichi Sakamoto, who composed the scores for Snake Eyes and Femme Fatale, died March 28 at 71, according to The Washington Post's Tim Greiving. "The death, from cancer, was announced on his website," Greiving continues, "but no further details were immediately available. He had been treated for throat cancer in 2014 and rectal cancer in 2021, and he announced in 2022 he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 of an unspecified form of cancer."

Greiving's article describes Sakamoto as "an eclectic Japanese composer who was an early leader in electronic pop music and became an acclaimed composer of film scores — notably Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor — that blended Eastern and Western cultural influences."

In the Snake Eyes section of the book Brian De Palma - Interviews with Samuel Blumenfeld and Laurent Vachaud (an English translation of which is set to be published this year by Sticking Place Books), De Palma discusses working with Sakamoto:

You worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto on the music for Snake Eyes. Did you discover him during Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence by Nagisa Ōshima?

No. It was his score for Bertolucci's Little Buddha that seduced me, I listened to it non-stop at the time. I have all his film scores at home, he did some wonderful things. He's a very imaginative guy, who works very hard. In addition, his base in New York is really close to my home. Like most composers today, Sakamoto composes everything on the computer. You go see him, and he plays the music for you, right on the computer. In the old days, you could never listen to the score before recording in the studio, especially with Bernard Herrmann, who did not let you hear anything beforehand. Today, when you enter the studio, you already know the music by heart.

Why did you use a pop song during the end credits?

I wanted this ending to bring us back to today's world, as the shot is very long, it lent itself well to a song. And then, like at the end of Casualties Of War, I wanted to suggest that after having lived through hell, the hero has redeemed himself, he has paid the price... and life goes on.

But the lyrics of the song really speak to the story of the film.

That's right, but the tone of the song is much less dark than Sakamoto's music. Through her instrumentation, she brings something very rock, very contemporary into the film, it's like a breath of fresh air. It was ideal for the ending, since it is the only daytime exterior shot of the entire film. We had to loosen it up a bit.

De Palma talks a bit more about working with Sakamoto in the Femme Fatale section of the Blumenfeld/Vachaud book (the images after the excerpt below are taken from Laurent Bouzereau's documentary footage on the Femme Fatale DVD) -

The scene of the theft of the jewels at the Cannes Film Festival is one of the most jubilant that you have filmed.

Yes, it took us three nights to block it. I had a very good steadycam operator on the film, but to get this sequence to shoot so quickly, I had to call in my favorite technician, Larry McConkey, who I brought over from the United States just for that. . I wanted this sequence to feel like a movie like Mission: Impossible, so that the break in your tone would only be greater when she meets her double and another movie begins. This eclecticism is reflected in the soundtrack.

The credits use music by Miklos Rosza for Double Indemnity by Billy Wilder, which Laure watches on television; then there is this piece by Ryuichi Sakamoto which accompanies the theft of the jewels, interrupted from time to time by the music of Patrick Doyle for Est-Ouest by Régis Wargnier, which is projected in the Palace, then there is the song by Elli Medeiros that the two girls listen to when they fuck in the toilets, and there is even the intro by Saint-Saens, taken from The Carnival of the Animals, which is the anthem of the Cannes Film Festival. Sakamoto's music for the scene that takes place in Cannes is very subtly different from Ravel's Bolero. Originally, Laure listened to the Boléro on her walkman. And Sakamoto had composed a long piece like Mission: Impossible to accompany the theft of the jewels and all the parallel actions. It was a huge job that took him months, and I was very annoyed when I told him it wasn't working. The scene speaks of a seduction, it's an erotic climate, the theft of diamonds is secondary, so that's not what the music should reflect. It's me who offered to try the Bolero that we placed as is on the images. And it worked right away. So I asked Sakamoto to compose a variation. For two reasons: that it sticks perfectly to the images and also to show that I'm going to take you somewhere else. And Sakamoto did a superb job. It's a very long piece, more than ten minutes, that you have to listen to in its entirety to grasp all its subtlety. I reused it for the end credits because I thought it was a shame to interrupt it suddenly during the scene where the jewels were stolen.

The music cuts off abruptly when the current jumps in the Palace.

Exactly. A director's worst nightmare. A power failure during the projection of your film. I had witnessed a similar incident during the presentation of Jean-Jacques Beineix's film Mortal Transfer at the Vienna festival. In the second reel! The blackout.

Sakamoto had already worked with you on Snake Eyes. He was immediately the composer you wanted for Femme Fatale?

No, initially I wanted Éric Serra, but he was already hired to compose the music for John McTiernan's Rollerball. Yet he really wanted to do it and I would have loved to have him, but I knew he couldn't do both. Then I went to see Patrick Doyle, who liked the film but couldn't compose the music in the time allowed, because he was recovering from a serious illness. The amount of work to be done was really enormous. So I was lucky that Sakamoto was available. He worked hard for four months. The fact that we know each other and have worked together has certainly helped because, for a composer who meets me for the first time, I can be a little off-putting. I demand a lot from them.

Posted by Geoff at 10:16 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto received the Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur (the National Order of the Legion of Honor) last Thursday, according to reports from Japan Zone and Japan Today. During the ceremony at the French Embassy in Tokyo, where he was awarded an officer medal, Sakamoto cited the influence of French composer Claude Debussy and of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard on his work, saying, "Through my music, I hope to repay the debt I owe." Sakamoto, 57, won an Academy Award in 1988 for his soundtrack to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. He later went on to score two films for Brian De Palma: Snake Eyes (1998), and Femme Fatale, which was filmed in France in 2001.

Posted by Geoff at 12:54 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 1:09 PM CDT
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