BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA – Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has spent a career steeped in high drama but Saturday the Japanese star revealed he had now realized a childhood dream by working for the first time in animation.
“I grew up watching Astro Boy,” said Sakamoto, referring to the cartoon crime fighter. “So I have a great respect for this world.”
The 66-year-old Sakamoto first won widespread acclaim for his seminal work on the score for the gritty David Bowie-starring drama “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983) before he won an Oscar for the Bernardo Bertolucci-directed period epic “The Last Emperor” in 1987.
Sakamoto attended the 23rd Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) to promote Japanese animation ace Kobun Shizuno’s fantastical “My Tyrano: Together, Forever,” with the film having its world premiere on Saturday night.
“My Tyrano” is lifted from the pages of Japanese picture-book author Miyanishi Tatsuya’s successful Tyrannosaurus series, and is set around an unlikely friendship that forms between two beasts.
Sakamoto picked up the Asian Filmmaker of the Year award at the festival’s opening Friday night for his work on movie sound tracks.
He said he was attracted to the themes of tolerance and friendship in “My Tyrano,” and hoped Asian politics will follow a similar route.
The composer said Saturday he thinks it is up to individuals to take away from the film what they will — but that he hopes they might see that its message is a positive one.
“The fact that this was a coproduction I thought was quite meaningful,” said Sakamoto.
“Getting people together from different places is an interesting process and together the filmmakers showed great passion. But I think it is up to people themselves to find messages. When I work I just act and don’t waste much time wondering what other people think about the things that I believe in.”
The trip to Busan comes as Sakamoto continues to emerge from a hiatus from public appearances following a battle with throat cancer that was first diagnosed in 2014. The disease is now in remission.
“I have been asked to come to Busan many times before,” said Sakamoto. “But the timing was not right until now. It is great to be here and to see people from all over Asia coming together to enjoy our cinema.”
Sakamoto found fame in the 1970s as part of the influential Japanese electronic group Yellow Magic Orchestra. The ground-breaking music he helped produce led to collaborations with the likes of David Bowie and David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame.
Other recent film projects have included the score for Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu’s Oscar winner “The Revenant” (2015) — the film the composer credits with refocusing his energies after his fight with cancer — before Shizuno approached the composer to work on his latest animation project.
“My Tyrano” producer Kang Sang-wook revealed that when the film was in pre-production his team had drawn up a wish list of composers they would like to work with and Sakamoto topped the list.
“But we never thought he would agree,” said Kang. “He’s like a giant, a hero.”
“My Tyrano” is set for theatrical release early in 2019.
The program for this year’s 23rd edition of BIFF includes 323 films from 79 countries, including 115 having their world premieres, and will continue until next Saturday.