By Samir Shukla
A good film score can help visualize scenes from a film even though you haven't seen it. Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's score to the film Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (Milan Records), directed by legendary Japanese director Yoji Yamada, is such a piece of work. It is sparse in orchestration yet expansive in creating a visual backdrop to a film I have only read about: A mother who lost her son in the Nagasaki atomic bombing and he returns as a phantom and communicates with her throughout her life until she passes away. There are 28 tracks on this score that range from jarring noise, somber piano pieces, and swaying woodwinds. The track "August 9th 11:02 am" — the day and time the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki — is a short burst of noise echoing the screech of the bomb and the explosion sounding like a hard rainfall of death. It gets under your skin.
Other pieces, some are very brief but just as evocative, create varied backdrops for the different scenes. The sequential compositions portray the sad poise of ordinary people who lost loved ones in the fireball but survived themselves, and their lingering emotional injuries. The poignancy of the score is bookended with somber strings as well as dissonant noise that I'm sure not only adds gravitas to the film, but also stands as a lovely piece of music on its own. This is essentially an instrumental score, either reserved or unnerving with occasional drones or repetition, while the human voice is sparsely used. This film score is another chapter in Sakamoto's eclectic, decades-long and vast musical output.
This review was originally published in Creative Loafing, Charlotte on November 23.