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RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: Nagasaki: Memories of My Son – Tokyo Philharmonic Orch./soloists – Milan

A beautiful and poignant score to a mostly unknown movie.

RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: Nagasaki: Memories of My Son – Tokyo Philharmonic Orch./soloists – Milan M2-37688, 57:32 (9/22/16) ***1/2:

Ryuichi Sakamoto has a long and admirable resume of work in both the concert hall realm and, that for which he is best known; film scores. I have personally admired and enjoyed his music for many years going back to his score to Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (starring the great David Bowie), The Last Emperor (on which he collaborated with the gifted and eclectic David Byrne) and even the very recent The Revenant. He is known and respected both in Hollywood and in Japan as one of our very finest film composers. He was also an actor in some of the movies.

I had never heard of the Japanese film, Nagasaki: Memories of My Son and, from what I can tell, it has not been released to video and – if shown in the United States – has been shown only in very limited release.

The movie itself is, as the title implies, a piece that reflects on the emotional distress following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was a release in Japan as part of a film festival, not even a “mainstream” release over there. The plot – which I had to look up on the film festival website – seems relatively straight forward and clearly emotional in its impact. A midwife, Nobuko Fukuhara, lost her husband and eldest son during World War II and lost her youngest son, Koji, as a result of the bombing of Nagasaki. She lives alone with only her job to keep her occupied. One day she is visited by an apparition of Koji. The mother and son begin to spend much time together, reminiscing and catching up on lost time. Although these moments together make both of them happy, it leads Nobuko to reflect more on her losses and the relationship she has with Koji’s past fiancée Machiko.

Seeing the film may take some real hunting and I have no way to know if it is worth the work. Fortunately, we can enjoy Sakamoto’s film score for what it is. His music is typically very beautiful in places, urgent in others and sublimely scored with the expected touches of traditional Japanese folk and ceremonial music. It is highly listenable and quite lovely. His music has the merit of being able to stand on its own while hinting at some unseen story. In this respect, it reminds me of the work of Greek film composer Eleni Karaindrou; the movies for which she has written are at least as obscure.

So, if you enjoy the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto this is a very worthy addition. We do not need to know the film to enjoy the music. Milan Records incidentally is a small independent label based in California with a surprisingly rich catalogue of mostly soundtracks, just like this, that are just a bit obscure and well worth seeking out. Kudos to them for maintaining this venture.

—Daniel Coombs

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