Tokyo Melody captures Ryuichi Sakamoto at one of many artistic peaks. In 1984, the 32-year-old member of high-energy pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra and composer for films like the David Bowie vehicle Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence had become a bona fide star. This documentary by French photographer Elizabeth Lennard, recently rediscovered by the heads at In Sheep’s Clothing Hi-Fi, is an illuminating glimpse at his creative process.
Fans of vintage synth gear will be delighted by the scenes of Sakamoto in the studio, casually smoking with a preppy sweater draped over his shoulders while teaching the filmmakers about his Fairlight CMI. It’s astonishing to see the way he composes in real time, effortlessly stacking layers of electronic sounds while playing the keys with robotic precision.
Elsewhere, Sakamoto loosens up. When applying his makeup he says with a laugh that it’s “more amusing to appear like a male and female.” This tenderness shines through in the scene where he performs YMO’s hit song “Tong Poo” on piano with Akiko Yano. Here, he proudly declares, “I don’t find many I can work with on the same level, except my wife.”