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Uproar as 'Japanese Beethoven' Mamoru Samuragochi exposed as a fraud

By Tim Hume, Junko Ogawa and Yoko Wakatsuki, CNN
February 7, 2014 -- Updated 0755 GMT (1555 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi says another person wrote his music
  • Known as the "Japanese Beethoven," he has reportedly been deaf for 15 years
  • The man who claims to have written the works says he does not believe Samuragochi is deaf
  • But the composer's lawyers say he has a government-issued certificate confirming his hearing impairment

Tokyo, Japan (CNN) -- A famous composer celebrated as a "Japanese Beethoven" for creating hit symphonies despite his deafness has been exposed as a fraud, after confessing another musician wrote his most acclaimed works.

And in a surprise twist, the man who says he was the ghost-writer of the works, Takashi Niigaki, claimed in a press conference Thursday that he did not believe the composer was deaf at all.

"I've never felt he was deaf ever since we met," said Niigaki. "We carry on normal conversations."

Niigaki told reporters in Tokyo that over the past 18 years he had been paid about 7 million yen (about $69,000) to write more than 20 pieces to order for popular classical composer Mamoru Samuragochi.

Niigaki, a teacher at the prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music, said that at no stage did he believe Samuragochi was deaf, as the composer conversed with him normally, and provided critiques on the music he contracted him to write over the years.

Music lecturer Takashi Niigaki admitted being the ghost-writer.
Music lecturer Takashi Niigaki admitted being the ghost-writer.

"At first he acted to me also as if he had suffered hearing loss, but he stopped doing so eventually," said Niigaki.

"Later I found out that he cannot even write musical scores."

Samuragochi is hailed as an inspirational genius in Japan for having created immensely popular classical symphonies and video game scores, despite reportedly having been completely deaf for 15 years.

He claimed to rely on his perfect pitch to compose after losing his hearing, telling TIME magazine in a 2001 profile that "if you trust your inner sense of sound, you create something that is truer. It is like communicating from the heart. Losing my hearing was a gift from God."

I've never felt he was deaf ever since we met. We carry on normal conversations.
Takashi Niigaki, who claims to have secretly composed Samuragochi 's music

Niigaki said he had entered into the arrangement with Samuragochi lightheartedly, but subsequently grew concerned about the deception, and told Samuragochi he wanted out.

But he said Samuragochi told him he would commit suicide if he stopped composing for him.

Niigaki said he considered himself guilty of duping the public and wanted to come clean.

"I am an accomplice of Samuragochi because I continued composing just as he demanded, although I knew he was deceiving people," he said. "I can't fool the people any more."

The office for Samuragochi's lawyers, Kazushi Orimoto and Mizuki Wakamatsu, told CNN they were unable to respond to Niigaki's claims.

But when approached by a reporter for Nippon Television, Orimoto said that the firm believed Samuragochi was indeed deaf, and had a government-issued certificate which confirmed his hearing impairment.

Earlier, they had issued a statement on behalf of Samuragochi, in which he apologized for having "betrayed fans" by having commissioned another composer to write his scores for years. The confession is understood to have been prompted by Niigaki's impending exposure of the fraud in a tell-all interview with a Japanese news magazine.

I can't fool the people any more.
Takashi Niigaki

In the statement, Samuragochi claimed he provided the broader ideas for the works, while the collaborator had produced the finished scores.

WATCH: Iconic Japanese composer admits to hoax

The collaborator had his own reasons for not identifying himself as a creator of the work, read the statement, so Samuragochi presented the work as a solo creation.

The lawyers' statement said that while their client "should offer a direct apology to his fans," he was too "mentally disturbed" by the revelations to express himself properly.

The 50-year-old composer, who also spells his name Samuragoch, came to prominence for his ambitious symphonic soundtracks for popular video games, including "Resident Evil."

His most popular work, "Symphony No 1, Hiroshima," dedicated to the victims of the 1945 atomic blast, became an anthem of Japanese resilience in the wake of the 2011 tsunami, after it was featured in documentary showing the composer traveling to the disaster zone.

His confession prompted apologies from NHK, the public broadcaster which aired the documentary, and his record label. "We were shocked by the news and deeply infuriated," said a statement from Nippon Columbia Co., Samuragochi's label, adding that the composer had previously assured the company that he was the creator of the works.

Daisuke Takahashi, an Olympic bronze medalist figure skater who is planning to skate to one of the works in Sochi, has also become drawn in to the saga. He issued a statement saying he had been unaware that Samuragochi was not the composer of the work, but intended to use the composition regardless.

Niigaki acknowledged he had wavered over the timing of his revelations due to the impact it may have on Takahashi's Olympic preparations, but decided to proceed anyway.

The potential disturbance to Takahashi's Sochi ambitions was a major talking point on social media, with many users complaining about the timing. Others noted that Samuragochi had built an irresistible "modern Beethoven" myth around himself that the public had lapped up.

"I wonder how many people truly love his music?" asked Twitter user @kenichiromogi.

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