Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Final Performance Captured in Concert Film Opus

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s final performance before passing in late March was captured for a concert film titled Opus, set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 5th.

Recorded without an audience in December 2022, the film solely features the late Japanese composer and electronic music pioneer on his piano as he plays 20 handpicked pieces spanning his entire career, from his initial success as co-founder of Yellow Magic Orchestra to his film scores for The Last Emperor to his final album, 12. Sakamoto performs several works as solo piano performances for the first time, including The Wuthering HeightsIchimei — Small Happiness, and a new arrangement of the 1978 Yellow Magic Orchestra track “Tong Poo.”

Watch a teaser from the film of Sakamoto performing a selection from his music for Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1990 romantic drama The Sheltering Sky over at Deadline.

In a posthumous statement about the concert film, Sakamoto said, “The project was conceived as a way to record my performances — while I was still able to perform — in a way that is worth preserving for the future. We borrowed the NHK Broadcast Center’s 509 Studio to record in, which is a place that I think offers the finest acoustics in Japan.”

Sakamoto continued by saying that his son, Neo Sora, who directed the film, approached the shoot with painstaking detail. “I played every piece at home which we recorded on an iPhone to construct the overall composition of the concert that will express the progression of time from morning into night,” he said. “Everything was meticulously storyboarded so that the camera positions and the lighting changed significantly with each song.”

Though Sakamoto was battling stage 4 cancer at the time, he took extra care to deliver his best possible performance. “While thinking of this as my last opportunity to perform, I also felt that I was able to break new grounds,” he added. “Simply playing a few songs a day with a lot of concentration was all I could muster at this point in my life. Perhaps due to the exertion, I felt utterly hollow afterwards, and my condition worsened for about a month. Even so, I feel relieved that I was able to record before my death — a performance that I was satisfied with.”

Opus features cinematography from Bill Kirstein and was shot using 4K cameras with a production crew of nearly 30 people. It was produced by Sakamoto’s manager and wife Norika Sora alongside Albert Tholen, Aiko Masubuchi, and Eric Nyari.

Sakamoto first revealed a throat cancer diagnosis in 2014, which went into remission by 2020. However, Sakamoto announced that he was battling rectal cancer in 2021, and shared in a 2022 update that the cancer had reached stage 4. Following his death, Sakamoto’s management shared a final playlist that he had put together to be played at his own funeral.