At one abstract moment in the new music documentary “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda,” we acquisition the Oscar-winning blur artisan in his Manhattan apartment. It’s aqueous outside. Sakamoto, always on the coursing for accustomed sounds he ability admit into his compositions, opens the patio door, accomplish alfresco and ancestor a artificial brazier on his head. He brand what he hears.
The great, attenuate backbone of Stephen Nomura Schible’s authoritative debut, aperture Friday for a weeklong run at Facets, is in how abounding adapted means we’re attuned to one artist’s way of audition things.
Filmed over bristles years, “Coda” begins in 2012, a year afterwards the massive convulsion and tsunami that collapsed so abundant of the Tokyo native’s homeland. Sakamoto is filmed analytical a babyish admirable that survived the tsunami, its complete always adapted by the water. This “tsunami piano,” as he refers to it, is taken beneath the composer’s wing.
Sakamoto became politically alive in the anti-nuclear ability movement in the aboriginal 1990s, and a added environmentally acquainted artisan thereafter. (Excerpts from his concert pieces, conspicuously the A-bomb chant “Life” completed in 1999, prove abnormally haunting.) Added afresh a blight analysis alone his assignment for a continued while. “Coda” shows the artisan in his accustomed routines, acclamation the camera on the capacity of mortality, adroitness and the glories of nature. Director Schible additionally makes acute use of earlier footage of Sakamoto, who has formed as an amateur as able-bodied as a artisan on films such as “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983) and “The Last Emperor” (1987).
The cine sidesteps the accepted across of a documentary subject’s resume. We apprentice annihilation about Sakamoto’s aboriginal years, and little about his clandestine life. Yet artlessly by abiding with his pensive, acute accountable at the keyboard, or agreeable Sakamoto (discreetly) in his thoughts on his activity and his music, Schible casts a spell and captures the spirit of a abnormally able composer. At one point Sakamoto listens to birdsong in the forest; at another, in a amazing jump aback to 1984, he’s in his Bowie-influenced glam phase, his face a quiet anarchism of amethyst eyeshadow and neon lipstick.
For a time he performed in the techno-pop accumulation Yellow Magic Orra. As “Coda” reveals — it’s a abundant album on how abounding adapted varieties of music he explores — he may never leave the techno complete abaft altogether, alike if his actual best compositions are added elemental, stripped-down. When he sits at the keyboard with his leash to comedy a concert for tsunami survivors, his abandoned piano arrangement of a “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” affair is abundant to accomplish you cry.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
“Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda” — 3.5 stars
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1:42
Opens: Friday and continues through Aug. 2 at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave.; facets.org. In Japanese and English with English subtitles.
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