He started composing film music in 1984 and his talent was immediately recognized in 1985, when the music he composed for the Japanese film production Sorekara (And Then) won several film music awards. He has since scored more than 30 Japanese Films.

Ume is also an internationally renowned film composer, best known for creating ‘Yumeji's Theme’ in Wong Kar-Wai's film In The Mood for Love as well as collaborating with Wong Kar-Wai on 2046. He was the music producer and composer for Zhang Yimou's films House of Flying Daggers and Curse of The Golden Flower and composed the end-title song ‘Lovers’ for the soprano Kathleen Battle.

Ume has proven his versatility in world cinema, working with such directors as Hong Kong's Ronny Yu for Jet Li's Fearless, Italy's Roberta Torre for Mare nero (Dark Sea), Serbia's Uros Stojanovic for Tears for Sale, England's Peter Webber for Hannibal Rising, Germany's Veit Helmer for Absurdistan and British director Sharon Maguire for Incendiary, starring Michelle Williams and Ewan McGregor.

He also contributed music to A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford (2009); Dias de gracia (Days of Grace) directed by Everardo Gout, winning the Mexican Academy Ariel Awards Best Score in 2012; Trishna, directed by Michael Winterbottom (2011); The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-Wai (2013) winning jointly with French composer Nathaniel Mechaly the 2014 Best Composer Award at the 8th Asian Film Awards and 2014 Best Composer Award at the 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards; and Come il vento (Like the Wind) directed Marco Simon Puccioni (2013).

In 2015, he produced and composed music for the Spanish film "La Novia" by Paula Ortis, for which he won the Ferros Award and got nominated nominated for the Goya Award in the category of best original score.

Recent scores for Chinese production companies include The Wasted Times (Er Cheng, 2016), God of War (Gordon Chan, 2017) Miss Puff (Xinyi Zhang, 2018). He has also co-written the score for the 4-part Channel 4 drama Chimerica (Michael Keillor, 2018). Ume has also composed scores for several video games including Ghost of Tsushima.

Ume composed the music for the official documentary film of the Beijing Olympics The Everlasting Flame: Beijing 2008, winning many international awards.

Since 2010 Ume has started to present his film music in concert at European festivals and concert halls.

Shigeru Umebayashi is as a member of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science and The World Soundtrack Academy.