Celebrated Japanese Composer Confesses He's a Fraud

Mamoru Samuragochi

Once hailed as "Japan's Beethoven," Mamoru Samuragochi admits he hired a music teacher to ghostwrite his film scores, while his secret collaborator says the composer isn't even deaf.

His story was the stuff of a heart-wrenching biopic: the gifted son of a WWII atomic bomb survivor overcomes poverty and a degenerative hearing disorder to share his love of music with the nation, scoring video games, films and an opus dedicated to the victims of Hiroshima -- considered a national treasure and known as "Japan's own Beethoven." Unfortunately, it appears they were all lies.

Japanese media went into overdrive this week, as hugely popular music figure Mamoru Samuragochi confessed that nearly all his celebrated works of the past 20 years were composed by a ghostwriter.

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Samuragochi, 50, rose to fame in the 1990s, composing elaborate orchestral soundtracks for popular video games (Demon Warrior, Resident Evil) and films (Cosmos, 1996), despite a hearing disorder he said had left him nearly deaf. In 2003, he released "Symphony No. 1 Hiroshima," dedicated to the 1945 atomic bombing of his home city, saying that he was now totally deaf but was able to compose the piece because of his "perfect pitch." A recording of the piece became a best-seller in classical music-loving Japan. He went on to cultivate a signature look -- long wavy hair, natty suits and dark sunglasses -- and became a frequent presence on Japanese TV.

His reputation grew when public broadcaster NHK aired a documentary in March last year entitled Melody of the Soul in which it showed the musician touring Japan's tsunami-battered Tohoku region to meet survivors and those who lost relatives in the 2011 catastrophe.

The film shows Samuragochi playing with a small girl whose mother was killed in the disaster and apparently composing a requiem for her, despite his own struggles with illness.

Viewers flocked in the tens of thousands to buy his Hiroshima piece, which became an anthemic tribute to the tsunami-hit region's determination to get back on its feet, known informally as the "symphony of hope."

After his confession on Wednesday, Samuragochi told NHK: "I had to ask the person to help me for more than half the work because the ear condition got worse."

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A statement supplied to the press by his lawyer read: "Samuragochi is deeply sorry, as he has betrayed fans and disappointed others. He knows he could not possibly make any excuse for what he has done."

NHK also issued a formal apology to viewers for failing to uncover the hoax. 

By late Thursday, the ghostwriter had been identified as Takashi Niigaki, 43, a part-time lecturer at a music college in Tokyo. Niigaki said at a press conference that Samuragochi paid him about $70,000 for over 20 songs dating back to the '90s.

The music teacher claims it was he who prompted Samuragochi to go public, despite the "composer" telling him "that if I didn’t write songs for him, he'd commit suicide."

Niigaki says he decided to break his silence when he learned that Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi is planning to perform to one of the compositions he wrote for Samuragochi -- "Sonatina for Violin" -- at the Sochi Olympics.

"I could not bear the thought of skater Takahashi being seen by the world as a co-conspirator in our crime," Niigaki said.

Perhaps most shocking for Samuragochi's legions of onetime fans, Niigaki also claims the erstwhile "Japanese Beethoven" isn't even deaf and never has been, saying it was all just "an act that he was performing to the outside world." Niigaki says he chatted with Samuragochi often and that they would openly discuss his compositions together.

While disappointment and outrage over the revelations were still trending Friday on Twitter in Japan -- the social media site is very popular there -- the individual most left in the lurch is likely Japanese Olympic hopeful Takahashi, who won a bronze medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He said in a statement supplied to The New York Times that it would be impossible for him to pull the Samuragochi piece from his routine, given all the practice and preparation that goes into his choreography.

"Takahashi and the people involved with him did not know about this incident," the statement said. "This is a crucial time just before the Olympics."