Largely self-taught, Takemitsu possessed consummate skill in the subtle manipulation of instrumental and orchestral timbre. He drew from a wide range of influences, including jazz, popular music, avant-garde procedures and traditional Japanese music, in a harmonic idiom largely derived from the music of Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen.
His 1957 Requiem for strings attracted international attention, led to several commissions from across the world and established his reputation as one of the leading 20th century Japanese composers. Takemitsu was the recipient of numerous awards, commissions and honours. He composed over 100 film scores and about 130 concert works for ensembles of various sizes and combinations. He also wrote a detective novel and appeared frequently on Japanese television as a celebrity chef.
In the foreword to a selection of Takemitsu's writings in English, conductor Seiji Ozawa writes: "I am very proud of my friend Toru Takemitsu. He is the first Japanese composer to write for a world audience and achieve international recognition."