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There is a musical biography embedded in this beautiful lyrical portrait of Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, best known for his theme from Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. There are flashbacks to his 70s synth-pop days with Yellow Magic Orchestra, along with recent scenes of him in the studio, recording the orchestral score for 2015’s The Revenant.
But for the most part it is a study of the composer at work. The meditative pace and contemplative detail gives us a sense of the intensity of Sakamoto’s relationship with sound, and the beauty he finds there. We follow him as he gathers his sonic materials from all kinds of sources – from the Arctic Circle, where he records snow melting (“the purest sound I ever heard”) to the contamination zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant – and observe as he begins to assemble these into compositions.
Yet the sound source he keeps returning to is the piano. Early in the film we see him testing an instrument recovered from the tsunami of 2012. Eerily out of tune, he says it feels like “playing the corpse of a piano.” Later, speaking frankly about his own mortality, these words take on a deeper resonance. — Nick Bollinger
“The task of documenting a sensitive creative person cursed and blessed with the unshakable need to address the tragedies and joys of the human condition, even into old age, is heavy enough to fuel multiple feature films. Schible, using a minimum of elements, makes deceptively light work of it, but Coda’s impact lingers hours, even days after the credits roll.” — Emily Yoshida, Vulture