A Ghostly Soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto
What could be more Halloweenish than a ghost story set in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust? Today’s piece of Halloween music is Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s score to Yogi Yamada’s 2015 drama Nagasaki: Memories of My Son, streaming at Spotify. The suite first began to take shape when the composer played solo piano behind actor Sayuri Yoshinaga’s performances of poetry by civilian survivors of the mass slaughter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. True to the film’s surreal, sepulchral atmosphere, this soundtrack is a quiet, solemn, minimalist series of themes and variations, often evoking a dream state. It explores mourning and remembrance far more than outright horror.
Skeletal, wistful piano alternates with gently melancholy strings that bring to mind Angelo Badalamenti‘s calmest, most bittersweet themes from the Twin Peaks soundtracks, as well as the stately plaintiveness typical of Japanese film music from sixty years ago and earlier. Beyond a single, lush art-song chorale late in the sequence, the once and future Yellow Magic Orchestra leader and anti-nuclear activist eschews Asian scales for lingering, minimalist neoromantic tonalities. The terror of the atom bomb attack itself is brief, understated and all the more macabre for it: a hint of unease, the whistle of a bomb dropping and then a distant roar of flames giving way to a low drone. The interlude is over in less than a minute. The B-29 bomber that carried it appears from the point of view of both the American attackers and the Japanese.
As the narrative unwinds, Sakamoto introduces a couple of ringing electric piano patches. Comfortable post-Poulenc melodicism gives way to tense, restless close harmony. The score’s most memorable segment pairs brooding strings with delicately tremolo-picked reverb guitar. Its most poignant has moody oboe rising over a low-key march by the strings. Its scariest is a brief and considerably louder reprise of the B-29 sonics. Its most unexpected is an Argentine-flavored tango complete with bandoneon.
It makes an apt companion piece to Sakamoto’s well-received and somewhat brighter if considerably icier 1983 Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence soundtrack, which has just been reissued and is up at Spotify as well.