Ryo was a gifted cinematographer, photographer and filmmaker based in
New York. He was born on July 8, 1979 in Ehime, Japan,
and grew up in Tokushima and Kagawa. He developed an interest in
American art and culture and moved to Los Angeles
when he was eighteen. A few years later, he moved to New York to study film
at Brooklyn College and he discovered a passion for cinematography there.
Ryo quickly became a highly sought after cinematographer,
applying his unique visual aesthetic across genres, from documentary
and narrative film to commercial and music video. Many of his projects
went on to win awards and garner berths in prestigious film festivals.
Ryo’s significant works as director of photography consist of several award-winning documentary features, notably Run for Your Life (2008), about the life of NY Marathon founder, Fred Lebow; Blank City (2010) about
No Wave, the avant-garde music and art scene during the late 70’s in NY; and Bill W. (2012) about the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The last film he shot was Out of My Hand (2015), a narrative feature inspired by Ryo’s unfinished documentary about the Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia. Shortly after returning from the Liberia shoot for
Out of My Hand, Ryo suddenly passed away on June 29, 2013, due to a severe strain of malaria. It was a week before his 34th birthday.
Out of My Hand went on to premiere in the Panorama section at the 2015 Berlinale, and was nominated for the 2016 John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award. The Village Voice paid tribute to Ryo’s cinematography in their review for the film, noting his tragic passing, and calling his shooting
“starkly beautiful … His work will endure.”
After his passing, Judd Ehrlich, a filmmaker and longtime collaborator of Ryo’s, took on the unfinished Firestone documentary. He completed the film as Notes from Liberia (2015), a short memoir told through Ryo’s point of view, with words from the diary he wrote during the filming. The film won awards at several festivals worldwide and was broadcasted throughout Europe. Ryo’s footage was also featured in Firestone and the Warlord (2015), an investigative documentary from ProPublica and PBS’s Frontline, which won two Emmy Awards. His footage from the Firestone rubber plantation remains one of the only images filmed inside the tightly guarded plantation.
Friends and collaborators of Ryo remember him as a talented, compassionate, and thoughtful man with a big smile and a big heart.
Ryo’s humanity and bold creative vision will continue to live on through his works.
He is survived by his wife and three children.