Renowned Japanese classical-music composer admits fraud
Japan has learned that one of its most popular musicians, Mamoru Samuragochi, 50, had staged an elaborate hoax in which someone else had secretly written his most famous compositions, and he had perhaps faked his hearing disability.
The New York Times
TOKYO — He was celebrated as a prolific musical genius whose compositions appeared in popular video games and the competition routine of a top figure skater in the Sochi Olympics. His deafness won him praise as Japan’s modern-day Ludwig van Beethoven.
It turns out that his magnum opus was his own masquerade.
Japan learned Thursday that one of its most popular musicians, Mamoru Samuragochi, 50, had staged an elaborate hoax in which someone else had secretly written his most famous compositions, and he had perhaps faked his hearing disability.
Across a nation long captivated by Western classical music, people reacted with remorse, outrage, and the rare threat of a lawsuit after Samuragochi’s revelations that he had hired a ghostwriter since the 1990s to compose most of his music.
The anger turned to disbelief when the ghostwriter came forward to accuse Samuragochi of faking his deafness, apparently to win public sympathy and shape the Beethoven persona.
The scandal began Wednesday, when Samuragochi confessed that someone else had written his most famous works. These include Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” about the 1945 atomic bombing of his home city, which became a classical-music hit in Japan; the theme music for the video games Resident Evil and Onimusha; and Sonatina for Violin, which the Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi is scheduled to use in his short program performance at the Winter Games in Sochi.
The timing could not have been worse for Takahashi, a potential medalist who won the bronze in the Vancouver Olympics four years ago. He said he would continue to skate to the piece — he had little choice with scant time left before the competition — and hoped the revelations would not overshadow his performance.
Samuragochi expressed remorse for the deception, although he did not say why he had chosen to come forward at that particular moment.
“Samuragochi is deeply sorry as he has betrayed fans and disappointed others,” said the written confession, released by Samuragochi’s lawyer. “He knows he could not possibly make any excuse for what he has done.”
The reason for the sudden repentance became clear Thursday, when the ghostwriter revealed himself to be Takashi Niigaki, 43, a hitherto largely unknown part-time lecturer at a prestigious music college in Tokyo. Niigaki said he had written more than 20 songs for Samuragochi since 1996, for which he received the equivalent of about $70,000.
He said he felt so guilty about the deception that he had threatened to go public in the past, but Samuragochi begged him not to. Niigaki said he finally could not take it when he learned one of his songs would be used by the Olympic skater. He told his story to a weekly tabloid, which went on sale Thursday.
“He told me that if I didn’t write songs for him, he’d commit suicide,” Niigaki said at a news conference. “But I could not bear the thought of skater Takahashi being seen by the world as a co-conspirator in our crime.”
Perhaps as shocking was Niigaki’s assertion that Samuragochi was never deaf. Niigaki said he had regular conversations with Samuragochi, who listened to and commented on his compositions. Niigaki said the deafness was “an act that he was performing to the outside world.”
Repeated calls and faxes to Samuragochi’s lawyers after Niigaki’s news conference were not answered.
It was unclear how Samuragochi duped the world since asserting that he had gone deaf in the late 1990s. No one, it seemed, suspected that the one-time child music prodigy had not composed his own work.
But in past interviews with the news media, Samuragochi gave an explanation that might explain why no one doubted his hearing loss: He said he was completely deaf in one ear but had some hearing in the other that was assisted by a hearing aid.
Much of Samuragochi’s appeal seemed to lie in his inspiring life story, especially for a country so fascinated by classical music. Japan was the birthplace of the Suzuki string method, and international superstars such as conductor Seiji Ozawa and pianist Mitsuko Uchida are the source of great pride.
In a 2007 autobiography, “Symphony No. 1,” Samuragochi described himself as the son of an atomic-bomb survivor and able to play Beethoven and Bach on the piano by age 10.
He seemed to reach the height of popularity last year, when Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, aired a documentary, “Melody of the Soul: The Composer Who Lost His Hearing” that followed him as he met survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The disclosure of his deception brought a wave of apologies by major Japanese news media, which expressed regret about having failed to uncover Samuragochi’s deceit.
“We want him to explain his behavior,” said the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-biggest-selling newspaper, in a mea culpa published Thursday, “but the media must also consider our own tendency to fall for tear-jerking stories.”
The episode also shook Japan’s struggling music industry.
The music company Nippon Columbia said it was “appalled and deeply indignant,” and would stop selling his CDs. Orchestras across Japan said they were canceling concerts that featured his music. The Kyushu Symphony Orchestra said it was considering a lawsuit to retrieve lost ticket sales, an extreme expression of anger in nonlitigious Japan.