Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda is a meditative portrait of an artist reexamining their lifelong process. Director Stephen Schible offers viewers an intimate, fly-on-the-wall gaze at the Japanese musical luminary during the creation of his 2017 album, async. There are wonderful flashbacks to his youthful experiences with Yellow Magic Orchestra and his break into cinema with David Bowie’s 1983 dramatic vehicle Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, but the majority of the documentary’s runtime follows Sakamoto in present day.
In the wake of a cancer diagnosis, Sakamoto slows his creative pace, but finds a way to fuse musique concrète (using homebound elements: cymbals, glass jars, rain) with the lingering melodies he is known for. The film’s most moving sequence occurs when Sakamoto discovers a piano surviving the wreckage of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, later used on his song “ZURE.” Coda’s slowest scenes of its subject taking pills, watching Tarkovsky films, or eating a banana with a fork may test viewers’ patience, but ultimately reward their attention with the same meticulous detail as Sakamoto’s music itself.