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 coming Sochi Olympics. His deafness won him praise as Japan’s modern-day Beethoven.
It turns out his magnum opus was his own masquerade.
On Thursday, Japan learned that one of its most popular musical figures, 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 even 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 at the Winter Games in Sochi.
The timing could hardly have been worse for Takahashi, who won the bronze in the Vancouver Olympics four years ago. He said in a statement that he will skate to the musical piece — he had little choice with scant time left before the competition — and hoped the revelations would not overshadow his performance.
“Takahashi and the people involved with him did not know,” the statement said. “This is a crucial time just before the Olympics.”
On Wednesday, Samuragochi expressed remorse for the deception but did not reveal why he had come forward.
“Samuragochi is deeply sorry as he has betrayed fans and disappointed others,” said the confession, released by Samuragochi’s lawyer. “He knows he could not possibly make any excuse for what he has done.”
The reason for this sudden repentance became clear Thursday when the ghostwriter revealed himself to be Takashi Niigaki, 43, a 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, but Samuragochi begged him not to. He said he could not take it anymore when he learned one of his songs would be used by the Olympic skater.
Niigaki 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 crowded press conference. “But I could not bear the thought of skater Takahashi being seen by the world as a coconspirator in our crime.”
Perhaps just 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 just “an act that he was performing to the outside world.”
In past interviews, Samuragochi gave an account 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.