The Japanese Beethoven

Robert Traynor
March 18, 2014

In November 2011,  A.S. ,a senior member of the Unsung Composers site wrote…..”Today, I introduce a Symphony by Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi,  who was born in Hiroshima at 1963 is a taught musician. Because he denied contemporary music , so he did not enter University of music.  He suffered migraines since high school, and at age of 35 he completely lost his hearing.  But relying on his absolute pitch, he was able to continue writing music and finished Symphony No. 1 in 2003.  This Symphony was played for the first time at Hiroshima in 2008 , and Tokyo in 2010.  This symphony written is late romantic style and strong influenced by Mahler and Bruckner. (three movements and lasts roughly 80 minutes.)  I attend to first performance at Tokyo in April 2011.  After sounding final chord, many many audience rise from a sitting position and enthusiastic applause continued.”

(Click here for an excerpt from the Symphony, played by the  Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra from the first performance Samuragochi’s work at Hiroshima in 2008). 

As noted in the February 17, 2014 edition of Hearing News Watch,”Beyond the greatness of his music, it was the composer’s compelling personal story that made him such an admired and beloved figure. Like Ludwig von Beethoven when he wrote his Ninth Symphony, [he] said [he] had been deaf in both ears since the age of 35 and never heard the beautiful sounds of his music. While he was best known in Japan, international news media also hailed his remarkable victory over hearing loss.  

Mamoru Samuragochi was born in 21 September 1963 in Hiroshima Prefecture to parents who were both hibakusha (i.e., irradiated in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima). He started playing the piano at the age of four. He started suffering migraines while in high school, and claimed that, by the time he was 35, he had completely lost his hearing.  After graduating from high school, Samuragochi did not attend university or music school, due to his dislike of modern composition methods, and he instead taught himself how to compose. 

In 2001 Time magazine quoted him as saying in an interview that his loss of hearing was “a gift from God.”  As a composer of music for video games, Time magazine said that, “Mamoru Samuragochi created a rich, textured symphony that elevates a game with a mundane plot–a samurai must rescue a princess from a bunch of demons–into a story of epic proportions. To record it, Samuragochi browbeat the producers into employing a 200-piece orchestra, including musicians playing such traditional instruments as a Japanese flute and taiko drums. The result is both haunting and inspirational, reminiscent of majestic scores for films like Lawrence of Arabia.” 

In the 20th century, film became the palette for composers, the way opera was before,” Samuragochi says. “Today we have video games.”  Samuragochi was responsible for the scores for video games such as Resident Evil Dual Shock Version. The composer was celebrated in his nation as a latter-day Beethoven. Among the musical compositions that made Samuragochi famous was Sonatina for Violin, which the Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi selected to perform to in the Sochi Winter Olympics. He also was credited with writing the theme music for the popular video game Resident Evil, and Samuragochi’s Hiroshima symphony, about the atomic bombing of his native city, was enormously popular in Japan.

On March 31, 2013, Samuragochi was the subject of a 50-minute Japanese TV documentary titled Melody of the Soul: The Composer Who Lost His Hearing (魂の旋律 ~音を失った作曲家~ Tamashii no Senritsu: Oto o Ushinatta Sakkyokuka?) and broadcast by NHK. The documentary followed him as he met survivors of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.  The public adored Mr. Samuragochi, who appeared to have overcome a serious physical disability, the loss of almost all of his hearing at age 35 due to a degenerative condition, and still to achieve musical greatness. In a 2007 autobiography titled “Symphony No. 1,” Mr. Samuragochi described himself as the son of an atomic bomb survivor and able to play Beethoven and Bach on the piano by age 10.  It turns out his magnum opus was his own masquerade.

Neither Deaf nor a Composer

Japan reacted with remorse, outrage, and even the rare threat of a lawsuit after Mamoru Samuragochi, now 50, admitted that he had hired a ghostwriter since the 1990s to write most of his music. The anger turned to disbelief when the ghostwriter himself came forward to accuse Mr. Samuragochi of faking his deafness, apparently to win public sympathy.  Mr. Samuragochi suddenly 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, used at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi by Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi.   The reason for this sudden display of repentance was when the ghostwriter for his music revealed himself to be Takashi Niigaki, 43, a relatively unknown part-time lecturer at a prestigious music college in Tokyo. Mr. Niigaki said he had written more than 20 songs for Mr. Samuragochi since 1996, for which he received the equivalent of about $US 70,000.  Niigaki said he felt so guilty about the deception that he had threatened to go public in the past, but Mr. Samuragochi begged him not to. He said he finally could not take it anymore when he learned one of his songs would be used by the Olympic skater.  He finally told his story to a Japanese weekly tabloid where the hoax was presented to the public.  Meanwhile, the symphony Hiroshima and the other compositions formerly credited to Samurgochi are still masterpieces and now we know their true creator.  Just confirms the believe that “if something seems impossible, it probably is impossible!”

Says Mamoru Samuragochi, “I have caused a great deal of trouble with my lies for everyone, including those people who bought my CDs and came to my concerts,” he said, according to a report from Reuters.

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