Bowie, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and ‘Forbidden Colours’- RIP Ryuichi Sakamoto

If you are a music blogger and check your stats regularly, you soon sense something is amiss when one of your really old posts suddenly gets a lot of traffic. As it turns out I had already heard the news of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s death on the car radio, but true to form, once I got home and checked, a post I had written in my first week of blogging back in 2016 was already the most visited of the day.

I was still reeling from the death of David Bowie when I wrote it (so most of it is about him) but back then the whole raison d’être of this blog was for me to revisit favourite songs from the past, and all these years later, Sylvian and Sakamoto’s Forbidden Colours was still a favourite. Here is that post again from seven years ago.

First Posted 17th January 2016:

Inevitably I got to thinking a lot about David Bowie this week and like many of us, have ended up spending a fair bit of time online looking back at his many guises. One that has thrown me a bit is the early ‘80s Let’s Dance phase. Early ‘70s David Bowie hid behind bizarre “spaceman” characters but by 1983 he had gone seriously mainstream. Or was he playing another character? I heard him say in an interview that he felt far more confident on stage playing a character such as Ziggy but by 36, as he would have been by this time, it looks as if he was confident enough to be himself. Amazingly, after looking pale, thin, malnourished and let’s be honest, a tad weird a decade earlier, he had turned into one of the best-looking guys in the industry (we’ll ignore the teeth). This was the post-New Romantic period and he was very much adopting the sharp, elegant look that bands such as Duran Duran, ABC and Japan favoured.

I am still unsure who copied who, but in 1983 there were a series of events that seemed to tie in and feed off each other. He released the Let’s Dance album that year and a string of hits came from it starting off with the title track in March. He had approached Nile Rodgers to act as producer on it, and his brief was to “give him hit singles”, which is exactly what he did. A massive world tour followed and I remember my flatmate of the time heading downtown with her sleeping bag in order to queue all night for tickets (no computers or Ticketmaster in those days, we were old school).

We knew that Bowie had a film coming out later that summer, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and leading the advance party were David Sylvian (ex of the band Japan) and Ryuichi Sakamoto, a musician who acted in the film but who had also produced the soundtrack album. The beautiful song Forbidden Colours was released in July 1983 and looking at a picture of David Sylvian from back then, there is more than a passing resemblance to ‘83 Bowie (although he is not as suntanned as he hadn’t been on location in a tropical rainforest).

Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian

The lyrics again are a bit bizarre but the theme is a forbidden love, which is also reflected in the storyline of the film. I do remember going to see it when it came out the following month and Bowie turned in a really good performance. A male colleague from that era had also been to see it and when I asked his opinion he decided that there had been something lacking, in that there were no women in it. That would of course have been because it was set in a male prisoner of war camp.

Forbidden Colours by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto:

So, unlike with his earlier creations, David Bowie in 1983 was very much part of the zeitgeist making highly commercial pop music and looking and dressing very much like his younger counterparts. He was back acting, and feeding off the people he worked with. Happy memories of those days – the real start of big ’80s hair (perms and bleaching were de rigueur), bold bright earrings, tanned skin, and lots of white shoes and clothing. Those of us who got on board with the whole look have probably ruined our hair and skin in the process but boy did we feel good when stepping out for a “night on the town”.

Scene from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

Not very much about Ryuichi himself in this repost for which I apologise, but other than the soundtrack to the film mentioned, I didn’t really know much about him. I have just discovered however that he also composed the soundtrack to another film I really enjoyed from the 1980s, The Last Emperor, for which he won an Oscar. He won a BAFTA as recently as 2015, for the soundtrack to the film The Revenant. A respected composer, record producer and actor who, like Bowie, sounds as if he was taken far too soon.

Until next time… RIP Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Forbidden Colours Lyrics
(Song by David Sylvian/Ryuichi Sakamoto)

The wounds on your hands never seem to heal
I thought all I needed was to believe
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or the beat of my heart
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes

Senseless years thunder by
Millions are willing to give their lives for you
Does nothing live on?

Learning to cope with feelings aroused in me
My hands in the soil, buried inside of myself
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again

I`ll go walking in circles
While doubting the very ground beneath me
Trying to show unquestioning faith in everything
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or a change of heart

My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days. I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 57 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team, Bacharach and David. The opening line to that song was, "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

6 thoughts on “Bowie, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and ‘Forbidden Colours’- RIP Ryuichi Sakamoto”

  1. It would have been much better if your bump in stats was the result of Mr. Sakamoto having a big worldwide hit album, or even him appearing in a viral TikTok video. Sadly that was not the case. I’m far from an expert on his work. In fact, I only own one of his solo albums and enjoy his contributions to some of David Sylvian’s work. But he was a very talented guy and he left us way too soon. Thanks for paying tribute to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, always nice to see a spike in your stats but not necessarily for this reason.

      As for the man himself, I only really knew of him because of that film and the soundtrack, but both made a big impact on me at the time and the song especially has really stayed with me. Sounds as if he was a very talented guy indeed and he has left behind a large body of work.

      Strange that this happened just around the time I was trying to think of what to say about your album pick of the week. The summer of 1983 was a very memorable one for me what with a new job and moving into a nice new flat with my friends. David Bowie was definitely part of those memories as his music was everywhere because of the Lets Dance album. He called it his “Phil Collins period” but I for one liked it. He was the master of reinvention, and call me shallow, but he was also seriously good-looking at that time. Going to see him in the movie was a given and watching the clip above with snippets included makes me yet again reel at the fact it was now 40 years ago. So long ago that we have now lost two of the leading actors (I have just checked and Tom Conteh is still with us at the age of 81).


    1. That’s amazing. I especially like the sound of the Blue Blue Electric Blue ice cream.

      He was really big during his lifetime but somehow I think he is going to become even bigger in death. I know I have appreciated his genius much more since revisiting his music for this blog. He was a pretty nifty actor as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. RIP Ryuichi, another one far too young. I also only came to know of him through Japan and ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ but Mr SDS, being 6 years older than me, was already familiar with him through Yellow Magic Orchestra (I just love that name). One of the things that struck me about Ryuichi was how cool he looked, there are some fab photos of him with that floppy fringe and he’s so beautifully commemorated by Andy Warhol
    I must admit, though, that I didn’t take to the ‘Merry Christmas…’ film at the time – but perhaps my expectations were a bit too high because of Bowie!
    I’m just wondering now if there are any biologically male musicians around at the moment who have quite that same beautiful androgynous look as Bowie, Sakamoto and Sylvian? I imagine it’s easier than ever to have that fluid image and there are several who dress androgynously but I can’t think of anyone with quite that same level of natural beauty. We were spoiled!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by C – yes, a bit of a lazy post this one, but I’m now only mentioning people who have passed that either really meant something to me or who have appeared around here before. As I wrote about Ryuichi’s beautiful soundtrack in my first week of blogging I felt duty bound to comment.

      You are so right – three beautiful androgynous-looking artists all from that same period and all attached to that one film. I haven’t sought it out yet although I did intend to this week. I don’t remember it being a big box office hit at the time but the fact Bowie was in it definitely was a draw.

      Had never seen that Andy Warhol picture of Ryuichi before, but yes, what with the floppy fringe, it really makes for a striking image.

      Another week, another death from the world of music. I now know how my parents/grandparents must have felt when just about every other day they read a death announcement in the local newspaper for someone they knew. We’ve kind of reached that age when so many of the people we grew up following and admiring are leaving us. It’s mentioned often on the blogs but a sobering thought.


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