Japanese musical innovator, Ryuichi Sakamoto, has recorded a touching live performance for those in isolation around the world. Special guest, Hidejiro Honjoh, joins the session with his shamisen expertise.
Sakamoto helped to sculpt the musical landscapes of electro, pop, and hip hop in the band Yellow Magic Orchestra (who momentarily re-united at Haruomi Hosono’s show at Barbican in 2018), as well as compose movie soundtracks, solo albums, and countless collaborative projects. In a deeply heartfelt performance, he moves us through major selections from his extensive discography.
Opening up the show, Hidejiro Honjoh performs traditional Japanese music with the shamisen. As well as his past collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, he has played with organisations like the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra and the Japan Philharmonic orchestra.
Honjoh performs four compositions by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Kyoko Hirai, Hiroya Miura, and one of his own. The adventurous, lucid tones of the shamisen reveal an ancient world that the following performance moves through.
Honjoh’s immersive art leads into an improvised collaboration between himself and Sakamoto. Losing themselves to innovation, the two performers deconstruct musical norms and play their instruments in every way but the intended method.
Reminding us of work created by noise musicians and Group Ongaku, Sakamoto picks up a stone-like bowl with coins and rocks inside it and makes cavernous reverberations by dropping the items into the rough ceramic container and rolling them across its edge.
He then uses metal chopsticks to tap and scrape the innards of his exposed piano. Honjoh bangs the shamisen and warps the tuning as he scratches its strings. Then the real fun begins.
Sakamoto starts bashing, caressing, and tinkering with a fascinating instrument that looks like the hull of a UFO. Metallic sounds echo across Honjoh’s shamisen experimentations. Whatever it is, perhaps a creation of Sakamoto’s own, it adds to one of the most intriguing parts of the performance.
Honjoh pulls out four shamisens and plays them like a koto and Sakamoto slides a torch-like device across the strings of an electric guitar, before the collaborative improvisation draws to a close, giving way to our host’s solo performance.
Drawing upon works from his film scores, solo albums, and past collaborations, Ryuichi Sakamoto strings his heart through his open-top piano. The penultimate track is a fantastic live rendition of his theme for the 1983 war film starring David Bowie, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.
He also recites ‘Bibo no Aozora’, a piece that originally partners the Japanese singer Taeko Onuki in their 2010 album, ‘UTAU’. He even plays an original work of the legendary film composer Ennio Morricone.
With a deep concern for the global population who are bound to isolation during this pandemic, Sakamoto sends his support through music. Elevating the classic sounds of Honjoh’s shamisen alongside experimental improvisations with unique instruments, Sakamoto’s appreciation of tradition and desire for innovation in music coalesces in this performance dedicated to the isolated.