Left Handed Dream: Celebrating the Music & Film of Ryuichi Sakamoto
As we near the one year anniversary of his death, Left Handed Dream: Celebrating the Music & Film of Ryuichi Sakamoto offers an illuminating program centring the lasting influence of Japanese composer-musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and his contributions to contemporary culture. Comprising both film screenings and specially commissioned music performances, audiences are invited to experience the musical sensitivities of an artist at pace with the present, yet never out of pace with history.
Left Handed Dream is co-presented by The Japan Foundation, Sydney and Phoenix Central Park.
Free Film Screenings
February 7 – March 6, 2024
From anime to arthouse, the Left Handed Dream film program patterns Ryuichi Sakamoto’s talents for absolute diversity and emotionally comprehending a film’s very soul. Though already their own visual masterpieces, these films are able to transcend into a permanent state of otherworldliness due to the plethora of sound carrying them through their respective lands, intimacies and hardships.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (戦場のメリークリスマス)
Dir Nagisa Ōshima / 1983 / 123 mins / Cast: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano / English, and Japanese with English subtitles / M: Moderate themes and violence
February 7, 6pm-8:03pm + Talk event (15 mins) and Q&A (15 mins)
Set in the humid confines of a prisoner-of-war camp in Java during the turbulent Japanese occupation, director Nagisa Ōshima (In the Realm of the Senses) throws two cultures together for a crucial reckoning. Deeply ritualistic, the camp commander Captain Yonoi is oddly intrigued by the shameless defiance of new British intern Jack Celliers. As escalating tensions reverberate across other captors and captives, stifling greenery and dirt, interpreter Lawrence attempts to retain some sense of humanity in the brutally existential ring that was WW2.
Sakamoto – who only accepted the role as Captain Yonoi on the condition that he could write the score as well – stars in this enigmatic queer-toned cult classic alongside David Bowie, cult icon Takeshi Kitano in his first ever dramatic appearance, and Academy Award nominee Tom Conti. Amid the bizarre entropy sanctioned within the camp, Sakamoto’s enchanting electronic score elevates the film’s harsh ulterior questions into a childlike soundscape that has become a signature melody he revisited many times throughout his recording and performance career.
“…the song has a power that transcends its original context – it serves as accompaniment to an ever-manifold theatre of the mind, theatre of the heart.” (Bradley Bambarger, music journalist)
Post-Film Talk Event
Following the screening of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, there will be a post-film talk event presented by Roger Pulvers, an acclaimed author, playwright, theatre and film director and translator. A frequent guest speaker at the Japan Foundation Sydney, Mr. Pulvers worked as assistant and interpreter to director Nagisa Ōshima on the set of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, alongside Sakamoto. Later on, Sakamoto composed the film score for Pulvers’ 2016 film STAR SAND.
Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA
Dir Stephen Nomura Schible / 2017 / 102 mins / Cast: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yellow Magic Orchestra / English, and Japanese with English subtitles / PG: Mild themes
February 21, 6:30pm – 8:12pm
One of the most important artists of our era, Ryuichi Sakamoto has had a prolific career spanning over four decades, from techno-pop stardom to Oscar-winning film composer. The evolution of his music has coincided with his life journeys. Following Fukushima, Sakamoto became an iconic figure in Japan’s social movement against nuclear power. As Sakamoto returns to music following cancer, his haunting awareness of life crisis leads to a resounding new masterpiece. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is an intimate portrait of both the artist and the man.
“We humans say [the piano] falls out of tune, but that’s not exactly accurate. Matter is struggling to return to a natural state.” – Ryuichi Sakamoto in CODA
Tony Takitani (トニー滝谷)
Dir Jun Ichikawa / 2004 / 75 mins / Cast: Issei Ogata, Rie Miyazawa, Shinohara Takahumi, Hidetoshi Nishijima / Japanese with English subtitles / PG: Mild themes
February 28, 6:30pm – 7:45pm
An absolute cinematographic dreamscape, Tony Takitani is both an ephemeral and very true adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s famed short story of the same name. The quiet son of a busy jazz musician and a mother who suffered an early death, Tony has been accustomed to loneliness for as long as he can remember. Now a successful technical illustrator, his life is radically changed when he falls in love with Eiko. Though her curious and increasingly concerning addiction to shopping quickly crowds the bare rooms with rows of beautiful designer clothes, an unavoidable shade of hollowness remains for them both that is not so easily filled.
Under Jun Ichikawa’s sensitive direction, the film shares a quiet humanism reminiscent of works by Yasujiro Ōzu, but remains transfixed with a tirelessly contemporary sense of estrangement. Alongside mesmerising visual sequences that intimately set Murakami’s words to a surreal tone, Sakamoto’s piano score acts as a perfect mirror of the blue-tinged loneliness unassumingly filling every frame of the film, and forming an unforgettable portrait of the solitude permeating one’s relationships and sense of self.
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (王立宇宙軍~オネアミスの翼)
Dir Hiroyuki Yamaga / 1987 / 121 mins / Cast: Leo Morimoto, Mitsuki Yayoi, Aya Murata, Kazuyuki Sogabe / Japanese with English subtitles / M: Moderate violence
March 6, 6:30pm – 8:31pm
From the studio that would go on to make the invincible 90s series Evangelion, comes their enthralling first commercial 1987 release, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.
Drifting through the stunningly crafted Kingdom of Honnêamise is Shirotsugh Lhadatt, a young man who’d once dreamt of flying planes in the air force but is instead cast aside into the ‘Royal Space Force’ – a space program publicly regarded to be the home of failures. Although Riquinni’s awe at the idea of being amongst the stars ignites Shiro’s sense of direction, her scriptures form a haunting backdrop to the moral legitimacy of a space race that is fast becoming fuel for war. Paced by a philosophical undertone, this film is an uncharacteristically subtle exploration of self-realisation and corruption in an era of Japanese anime that was only one year preceding the explosive cult masterpiece Akira.
Whirring the film to life are the enchanting lights and steampunk-esque streets of Honnêamise, and an unendingly magnificent score composed under Sakamoto’s music direction. Passages blend a flurry of folk harmonies, marching band, electric guitar and even the mystique of traditional gagaku (Japanese Imperial court music) soundscapes. Behaving as an unlikely orchestra, they awaken the discordant clanking of a people at qualms with the city overriding them, and make it a score as ambitiously varied and worldbuilding as its visual counterpart.
Phoenix Central Park Music Program
February 6 & 15, 2024
The Left Handed Dream music program showcases two music artists greatly influenced by Sakamoto, from his time with techno-pop hit group Yellow Magic Orchestra (Y.M.O.) in the 70-80s to his most recent trademark finesse of the piano-synthesiser sound. Performing solo sets live from the magnificent Nest of Phoenix Central Park, London-based Nico Niquo and Sydney-based Elmo Aoyama will each bring Sakamoto’s influence to life with unique interpretations of his work.
Performance by Nico Niquo
February 6 , 2024 (Tuesday) / Concert 1: 6:30pm-7:10pm / Concert 2: 8:15pm-8:55pm
In this rare performance from one of Australia’s most rigorous ambient musicians, audiences can expect a reworked arrangements from Nico Niquo’s celebrated and highly sought-after back catalogue, specifically arranged to closely engage with the style and aesthetics of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s own. Particular emphasis will be placed on the piano paired with synthesisers, the trademark ‘sound’ and approach of Sakamoto’s last solo album, 12.
Reflecting on his connection to Sakamoto’s oeuvre, Nico writes “I was introduced to his music a long time ago by a childhood friend; a friend who I haven’t spoken to in years, but think back to with great fondness. It’s a connection that, no doubt, could be evoked flawlessly by one of Sakamoto’s composition, come to think of it.
“There is something to this individual’s music – at the granular level, its beauty and poise, to its sheer breadth and richness at the macro level – that, to me, has only grown more affecting and compelling over time.
But there is so much more beyond that, too; learning of Sakamoto’s philosophy and advocacy through his writings and interviews, in totality with the utter uniqueness of his musical catalogue and the vastness of his legacy, leads me to wonder and ponder like listening to no other, every time I listen, more often than not, every single day.”
About Nico Niquo
Nico Niquo (Nico Callaghan) is a London-based Australian musician with releases on Orange Milk Records (US) and Daisart (AU). He has performed in Japan and North America, and contributes to Picnic (US/AU) and J and the Woolen Stars (AU). His most recent album Esperanto (2023) follows Timeless (2018) and In A Silent Way (2017).
Performance by Elmo Aoyama
February 15, 2024 (Thursday) / Concert 1: 6:30pm-7:10pm / Concert 2: 8:15pm-8:55pm
Join Sydney-based, Tokyo-born synth artist and vocalist Elmo Aoyama as she explores her connection musical to Ryuichi, which she likens to a bird’s nest of cables.
Playing live using a combination of synthesisers, samplers, drum machines, as well as electro-acoustic instrumentation, the result will be a journey through time, space and moods — cinematic and sombre; sometimes playful, sometimes hypnotic with a pulsating beat underneath.
For Aoyama, the opportunity to pay homage to an artist with such a singular influence on her practice is significant: “It takes a rare talent like Sakamoto to borrow a brand-new electronic sound and return it with elements of Japanese Folk and Western Classical, layered with a cascading brightness to create something uniquely Japanese.”
Expect a performance that is part recital, part DJ set; crossing bridges of influence to compress geography and time on the floor of Phoenix.
About Elmo Aoyama
Elmo Aoyama is a Sydney-based, Tokyo-born synth artist and vocalist curiously exploring the relationship between memory, time and space. Layering synths, tuned percussion and vocals, Elmo’s live sets take you on a sensory journey through organised chaos and nostalgia.
FILM SCREENING DETAILS
February 7, 2024 (Wednesday)
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
(M: Moderate themes and violence)
February 21, 2024 (Wednesday)
Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA
(PG: Mild themes)
February 28, 2024 (Wednesday)
Tony Takitani (PG: Mild themes)
March 6, 2024 (Wednesday)
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise
(M: Moderate violence)
Free; Bookings required
Online film bookings open at 10am on the scheduled day.
Level 3, Central Park
28 Broadway, Chippendale NSW 2008
(02) 8239 0055
Header image: ©2018 Modern Films Entertainment Ltd.