I probably have listened to “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” easily a thousand times, probably even more, in various versions. Ryuichi Sakamoto is one of the composers whose music provided great comfort and consolation in my adolescent years. And I am probably not the only one who feels this way about his music. Several years ago when I learned that he was diagnosed with stage 3 throat cancer and he stopped performing and composing music, I started listening to his music again.
“Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda” follows Sakamoto’s everyday life while he was working on his recent album “async”, which came out after he got diagnosed with the cancer. Some documentaries try hard to stitch together different footages to create a cohesive narrative. This one didn’t have to that and yet it was natural and poetic. It’s dotted with several clips of his creative process including him explaining his motivation and thought process, and some footages from the past.
Even though some of his thoughts were inevitably anchored in the subject of life and death, I appreciated that the documentary took time and showed Sakamoto’s studious and delightful creative process in general. His curiosity on nature and humanity and experimental endeavor also made me appreciate his music even more. His anti-nuclear activism, which I didn’t know much about before watching the film, in a way, also made sense. His curiosity and desire to express couldn’t prevent him from caring about the world.
Coda is not a hard stop. It’s like landing an airplane. You still play the music and prepare for the end. Like its ending, the movie tells us that even though he knows and we know that there is not much time left, he will continue playing and doing his thing as long as he can.
Perhaps the quote of Paul Bowels from the album “async” easily summarizes the film:
“We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”