David Adamson takes a trip through the uncanny valley when watching the late Japanese master
Totally subjective rating: 10/10 for an immersive, emotional experience delivered with beautiful understatement
Who: Ryuichi Sakamoto in collaboration with Tin Drum
Where: Versa Manchester Studios
When: 29 June to 9 July
What MIF 2023 says: KAGAMI represents a new kind of concert, fusing dimensional moving photography with the real world to create a never-before-experienced mixed reality presentation.
What we say: The late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has managed what most artists hope for in a conceptual sense - to live on after death through their work - and made it a near-reality.
Before his death at age 71 in March of this year, Sakamoto performed his final concert in a kind of endless present - and in doing so makes a mockery of this mortal coil.
From the unassuming entrance of Versa Studios we were led through a corridor of white curtains and into a sort of artistic antechamber, with portraits of the artist as a young man - an impeccably cool one at that - adorning the walls.
Front and centre was a dreamlike video sequence of Sakamoto out making field recordings, from running water to rain and the sound of rocks falling on mossy ground. All this proves the perfect primer - gentle, soothing and contemplative - for the experience waiting in the next room.
We took our seats, circled round an empty ‘performance space’ in the centre, and were handed ‘mixed-reality headsets’ before the lights dimmed and Sakamoto materialised.
As a centre around which everything else would revolve, the composer was a perfectly understated presence with customary suit, white cropped and curtained hair and Yamaha piano.
The apparitions started small - smoke slowly covering the floor, blossom floating on an imaginary breeze - and I quickly forgot we were simply a group of people staring at empty space while music played.
These grew in strength and stature, taking in grainy and evocative archive footage of ice rinks, horseraces and cities embracing modernity at frightening rates with skyscrapers and suspension bridges.
Most astonishing was when we found ourselves floating in endless space, among the Milky Way and with Earth far below, and my earlier cynicism on the power of ‘altered reality’ fell away across the universe.
Meanwhile the composer played through a series of Debussey-esque pieces, each of them leaving the space among the notes that your mind then occupies.
His most famous piece, the achingly beautiful Forbidden Colours from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is a piece of music I listen to quite regularly, and if it lends a sense of poetry to cleaning your kitchen you can imagine the effect it creates in this context.
His final piece was written, he explained, five minutes after learning of the death of his friend and onetime collaborator on The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci. When he played the final note, he bowed his head, began to fade and was gone, but never entirely.
Read next - MIF ’23 Reviews: You, Me and the Balloons
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