Sakamoto came to fame as a member of Japanese synth-rock outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra with co-founders Haruomo Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi; the band were a seminal influence on the Acid House and Techno movements of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He collaborated with David Sylvian on a number of singles and most of Sylvian's albums.
He appeared in the 1983 Nagisa Oshima film Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence alongside British rock singer David Bowie; he also wrote the film's musical score, and the theme song "Forbidden Colours," sung by Sylvian, became a minor hit. He won the Academy Award for his score to the 1987 Bernardo Bertolucci film The Last Emperor. He has also written soundtracks for Pedro Almodovar's film High Heels, and Oliver Stone's Wild Palms.
Sakamoto was married to a Japanese pianist and singer Akiko Yano, collaborating with her on some of her recordings.
He is also known as a critic of copyright law, saying it is antiquated in the information age.