Ryuichi Sakamoto, acclaimed composer and electronic music pioneer, has died aged 71

Ryuichi Sakamoto
(Image credit: Chiaki Nozu/WireImage)

Pioneering Japanese electronic musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has died at the age of 71, it’s been confirmed.

Sakamoto rose to prominence as a keyboard player and vocalist in Yellow Magic Orchestra, which he formed alongside Yukihiro Takahashi and Haruomi Hosono in 1978. With their heavy use of synths, samplers, drum machines and sequencers, the band were at the vanguard of the burgeoning synth-pop movement.

Alongside his role in YMO, Sakamoto embarked on a solo career, with 1980’s B-2 Unit album - and the track Riot in Lagos in particular - going on to influence electro and hip-hop artists such as Afrika Bambaata. He came to be viewed as an ambient music pioneer, too.

Sakamoto was also famed for his film scores, winning an Oscar for his work on the soundtrack to The Last Emperor in 1987. Prior to that, in 1983 he composed the soundtrack to Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, in which he also starred alongside David Bowie. The main theme from the film has become one of Sakamoto’s best-loved and most-played pieces.

Sakamoto continued to write and perform, reuniting with his Yellow Magic Orchestra bandmates on several occasions and composing the music for the opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but was forced to take a break from his work in 2014 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. In 2021, he revealed that this was in remission, but that he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

"From now on, I will be living alongside cancer,” he said at the time. “But, I am hoping to make music for a little while longer."

Sakamoto died on 28 March, his management company revealed, adding that "he lived with music to the very end."

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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