In this week’s news roundup, we pay our respects to Ryuichi Sakamoto, who passed away on March 28. The legendary musician was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014 and then rectal cancer seven years later. An Oscar, Grammy, BAFTA and two-time Golden Globe winner, he was a founder member of the influential electronic group Yellow Magic Orchestra and composed scores for over 30 films, including Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Last Emperor, Little Buddha and The Revenant. He also performed at the opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. On January 17 of this year, Sakamoto released his final album, 12, a week after former bandmate Yukihiro Takahashi passed away.
Also this week, we have the latest on the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter that went missing on Thursday near Okinawa’s Miyako Island. Plus, we report on the arrest of two men in their 30s for an unhygienic prank at Yoshinoya. Fashion model Jessica Michibata is released, however, her boyfriend is rearrested. Video footage of Sri Lankan woman Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali before she died at a Nagoya immigration facility is finally shown to the public. The stage production of My Neighbour Totoro wins six Olivier Awards. And in sport, it’s another impressive week for Shohei Ohtani and Kaoru Mitoma.
Legendary Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto Dies Aged 71
Pioneering composer and producer Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away on March 28, his record company announced on Sunday. He was 71. As well as being a founding member of the groundbreaking electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), he also enjoyed a successful career as a solo artist, receiving an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe for his original score for The Last Emperor. He picked up a second Golden Globe for The Sheltering Sky in 1990. His debut as a film score composer and actor came in Nagisa Oshima’s war movie Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. Performing alongside David Bowie, he impressed as Captain Yonoi.
The BAFTA-winning movie soundtrack is most remembered for the instrumental title track. There’s also the vocal version featuring Japan front man David Sylvian. Titled “Forbidden Colours” after Yukio Mishima’s book of the same name, it went to number one in Iceland. His biggest international hit alongside Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi for YMO was a cover of Martin Denny’s 1959 track “Firecracker.” Away from music, Sakamoto was known as an anti-nuclear and environmental campaigner. In 2006, he launched stop-rokkasho.org in response to the opening of a nuclear reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture.
A Global Superstar
Tributes came pouring in from around the world following the announcement of the revered musician’s death, including from several musicians. Sylvian shared three tiles on his Instagram page which included Sakamoto’s dates of birth and death, a black and white picture of the pianist and a quote by American poet Jack Gilbert: “I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph.” Questlove, the drummer for the Grammy Awarding–winning band The Roots, wrote, “Thank you Ryuichi Sakamoto for your gifts. Sad to see another force leave this planet.”
“Teacher, I hope the faraway journey is peaceful. R.I.P Ryuichi Sakamoto,” posted Suga from BTS on Instagram. “RIP my dear Ryuichi, your art will remain forever,” tweeted electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre. Johnny Marr, former guitarist from The Smiths, described Sakamoto as,” An elegant and timeless artist,” while physicist Brian Cox, a former keyboard player for British bands Dare and D:Ream, wrote that Sakamoto had been a big part of his “‘80s musical experience.” X Japan leader Yoshiki performed “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” in honor of Sakamoto on Monday. “I don’t think there’s a pianist, keyboardist or synthesizer player who hasn’t been influenced by Ryuichi Sakamoto,” he said.
Japan GSDF Helicopter Goes Missing Near Okinawa
A Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) helicopter disappeared from radar at around 3:56pm on Thursday near Okinawa Prefecture’s Miyako Island. Ten people were aboard the UH-60JA multipurpose chopper when it went missing, including Lieutenant General Yuichi Sakamoto, the head of the GSDF’s 8th Division. The rotorcraft departed Miyako at approximately 3:46pm and was then scheduled to return at 5:05pm. According to the Defense Ministry, the weather conditions were good enough for a helicopter flight. The Japan Coast Guard dispatched patrol ships to nearby waters and retrieved a folded life boat that reportedly belongs to the GSDF.
Coast guard officials also said they discovered some oil floating on the water surface near where the chopper went missing, plus a rotor blade. At the time of writing, however, it hasn’t been confirmed whether this was a part of the helicopter. “We are putting maximum priority on human life and rescue operations,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo. One of the deadliest accidents involving an SDF aircraft in recent years occurred on April 6, 2016. All six people on a U-125 flight inspection plane died after it crashed near Kanoya Air Base in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Police Arrest ‘Ginger Terrorists’ for Prank at Yoshinoya
Sharing clips of unhygienic behavior at restaurant chains has become a trend in Japan. Last month, three people, aged between 15 and 21, were arrested for unsavory pranks at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in Nagoya. Dubbed “sushi terrorists,” their uploaded video went viral, sparking outrage online. There have been several instances of these food-related pranks in recent months and not just at sushi establishments. On Tuesday, Osaka Police announced that they arrested two men for allegedly damaging the business of beef bowl chain Yoshinoya.
In footage that was posted on social media, Ryu Shimazu, 35, was seen scoffing down red pickled ginger toppings directly from the container, using chopsticks that he’d reportedly previously used for eating. Toshihide Oka filmed the act on his smartphone. According to the police, both men admitted to the misdemeanor. “I wanted to make everyone laugh,” Shimazu told the police. “I asked Shimazu to do something funny. And I wanted to show it to everyone because I thought it was funny,” said Oka. Shimazu was indicted last week after being arrested on March 9. Oka was apprehended on Monday.
Jessica Michibata Released
Fashion model Jessica Michibata was released from a police station in Harajuku on Wednesday. However, her film producer boyfriend, Kenneth Kao, was rearrested. The pair were taken into custody two weeks ago on suspicion of violating the narcotics special measures law. Customs officials at Narita Airport allegedly discovered a package with the illegal stimulant MDMA addressed to Kao at the hotel room where they were staying. Michibata, though, denied the charge, stating that she didn’t know what was inside the package. Kao, however, has reportedly admitted to having the drugs sent to him from America.
In other crime-related news, video footage of Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali before her death was released publicly for the first time on Thursday. The Sri Lankan woman died while being held at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau in March 2021. She was just 33. The seven-minute video was shown at a press conference in Tokyo. At one point, a bedridden Wishma begs the officers to take her to a hospital. “I want the Japanese people to know how my sister suffered and was left to die in an environment where there was no one to help her,” said Wishma’s sister Wayomi at the press conference.
Six Olivier Awards for My Neighbour Totoro
My Neighbour Totoro was the big winner at the Laurence Olivier Awards in England on Sunday. The stage production, based on Hayao Miyazaki’s movie of the same name, received six awards. It was nominated in nine categories. Adapted by Tom Morton-Smith with music by Joe Hisaishi, the critically acclaimed play premiered at London’s Barbican Center last October. It broke the venue’s box-office record for sales in one day. The Olivier Awards, named after the man widely considered the greatest thespian talent of the 20th century, recognizes excellence in professional theater in the UK’s capital city.
Another popular animation film from Japan making headlines this week was Suzume. Chinese media reported on Tuesday that Makoto Shinkai’s most recent release became the highest-grossing Japanese movie of all time in China, having topped the box-office there for consecutive weeks. The previous record was held by Your Name, also directed by Shinkai. In South Korea, meanwhile, the popular animated film was watched by 3 million people within its first three weeks. It premiered internationally in competition at the 37th Berlin International Film Festival in February. In doing so, it became the first Japanese animated movie to compete at the prestigious festival since Spirited Away in 2002.
Ohtani Begins New Season with Two Home Runs
Shohei Ohtani has, unsurprisingly, started the Major League Baseball (MLB) season in explosive fashion. He belted his first homer of the campaign on Sunday, helping the Los Angeles Angels defeat the Oakland Athletics 6-0. He then hit his second the following night in his side’s 7-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners. His first win on the mound came against the same team on Wednesday. His RBI single decided the game. Two days earlier, Boston Red Sox’s Masataka Yoshida hit his first MLB home run in his side’s 7-6 defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In soccer, Kaoru Mitoma continues to shine for Brighton in the Premier League. He netted his 10th goal in all competitions in the Seagulls’ 3-3 draw with Brentford on Saturday and followed that up with an assist for Evan Ferguson in their 2-0 win over Bournemouth three days later. Other Europe-based Japanese players netting this week included Takuma Asano (VfL Bochum) and Masaya Okugawa (Arminia Bielefeld) in Germany. Ayase Ueda bagged his 15th of the campaign for Cercle Brugge in Belgium. Keito Nakamura, meanwhile, enhanced his blossoming reputation with a beautiful strike for Austrian side LASK.