Encounters of the atmospheric kind

Phil Johnson meets composer Ryuichi Sakamoto
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The Independent Culture

Gohatto reunites Oshima with the composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who in 1983 both wrote the score and starred (with David Bowie) in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. Their latest collaboration is an odd, puzzling, film but the score by Sakamoto is eerily effective throughout. A single musical theme, itself no more than a few notes on the piano, is repeated, while the rest of the score consists largely of "ambient" noises built around ominous electronic drones, percussion, and birdsong.

"That was my main purpose for this film, to create an ambience," Sakamoto says. "Usually, we write film music according to the characters or roles, or the symbolism of the story, but instead of directing the audience through the music, I aimed to create an atmosphere."

Sakamoto, who's an impossibly handsome 49, has been a worldwide star since his days with Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978-1983), the pioneers, along with Kraftwerk, of techno-pop. Subsequently, he has collaborated with a wish-list of the hippest musicians going, among them Brian Eno, David Byrne, David Sylvian, Arto Lindsay, Caetano Veloso, and Madonna, as well as writing film scores for Bertolucci, Pedro Aldomovar and Volker Schlondorff.

"One of my main purposes in composing for Gohatto was derived from Mr Oshima's other films," he says. "I have been a big fan of his films since I was 16 or 17. He's a unique film-maker. There are other film-makers who are very ideological or conceptual but they still remain painters; they are obsessed with painting with light and shadow, and, of course, that is what cinema is all about. But surprisingly, although this is only my opinion, Mr Oshima is not a painter; he is obsessed only with ideas. He almost doesn't care about design or cinematography, and that's astonishing to me.Gohatto is very well designed, and photographed in a very controlled way. But there's no ambience ... That was why I made my music abstract."

Sakamoto's famous theme for Merry Christmas became a pop hit for a second time when it was used last year, without permission, as the basis for Watergate's techno tune "Heart of Asia". "I heard it once," he says warily. "It's not a great introduction to my music for young people ... I know a few DJs who are creative, but three per cent are interesting; 97 per cent are just trash."

Gohatto: Original Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is released on import by Milan Records/BMG

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