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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Deaf film director uses sound to reach out to wider audience

Dec. 18, 2017

Film director Mika Imai has won awards for her movies aimed at the hearing impaired. Imai, who herself is deaf, is now trying something new to reach out to a larger audience.

24-year-old Imai has been deaf since she was little. She has been shooting movies with no spoken lines or sound effects. She previously made 5 films, including "Until Rainbow Dawn," about a hearing-impaired lesbian couple. Her works have won awards, but their appeal has mainly been to the hearing impaired.

To reach a wider audience, she's making a film that includes background sounds and music for the first time. "By adding sounds, I wanted not only deaf people, but also people who can hear, to watch my movie. I hope to make an example of a film that anyone, whether they can hear or not, can enjoy," she signs.

Imai's close collaborator on the film is cameraman Keita Yugoshi. Among the actors and staff, he's the only one who can hear. He was brought in to help Imai with not just the visuals, but also with sound. "I was asked to be an adviser. But I suggested we work together," he says.

In the past, Imai did the camerawork herself. But this time, she needs to explain each scene to Yugoshi through a sign-language interpreter. Since all the communication is done through an interpreter, it's much more time consuming.

But through this production, Imai made some surprising discoveries. "Cut! Turn off the air-conditioner. The mic's picking up the sound...Hairdryers are pretty loud, so we can't really talk while drying hair," Yugoshi points out. For the first time, Imai realizes that hairdryers and air conditioners can be disturbance during a conversation. "The air-conditioner makes sounds, and desks and doors creak. Chair legs also make noise. It was a major discovery to me that we are surrounded by so much sound," signs Imai.

The day of the preview has come. Both deaf and hearing people watch the film. As with Imai's previous films, the dialogue is in sign language. But this time there's audio and music, too. The audience indicated their approval via sign language and applause. "I was drawn into the movie. I didn't feel there was anything unnatural about it," says one of the viewers. "I think the music made it easier to empathize," says another.

"Just because the film was made by a deaf crew, that doesn't mean it's only for deaf people. It's intended for everybody. And I hope our film can serve as a bridge between people who can hear and people who can't," signs Imai. She's still working on the production, and hopes to screen the film next spring.