Deaf actors’ performances help expand opportunities

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Performers of the courtroom drama “Terror” practice sign language in Kobe in September.

Opportunities for actors who are deaf are increasing as audiences increasingly embrace diversity, while their talents on stage and TV and in movies are more widely recognized than before.

In early October, the courtroom drama “Terror” was performed in both sign language and spoken Japanese at Kobe Art Village Center in Hyogo Ward, Kobe.

During rehearsals in September, actors were communicating both in sign language and Japanese.

Fumiko Yamaguchi, 40, was cast as a presiding judge. She is a deaf actor who has appeared in movies and plays. Five actors who are deaf or hard of hearing were cast in “Terror.”

“It’s such a pleasure to have such an opportunity with so many fascinating performers,” Yamaguchi said.

Director Pink Chiteijin Sango said, “This is a prelude to expanding the field for actors who have hearing difficulties.”

Deaf actors Satoshi Ezoe and Eri Nasu are cast in “Silent,” a drama starring Haruna Kawaguchi that began on Fuji TV this October.

In past TV dramas, the role of a deaf person was often played by well-known actors. In this drama, audiences will encounter more convincing performances by actors who know well what it’s like to have hearing problems.

In the Japanese film “Love Life” presented at this year’s Venice Film Festival, deaf actor Atom Sunada made headlines for his humane performance as the former husband of a female protagonist.

Since October, “Deaf Actors Course 2022,” a training course for actors who are deaf or hard of hearing, has been taught by leading filmmakers including “Love Life” director Koji Fukada. Lectures are interpreted into sign language, and it has been selected by the Cultural Affairs Agency as a project to promote cultural and artistic activities by people with disabilities. The course will continue until November.

There is also a behind-the-scenes drive to further embrace diversity.

Starting in 2024, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will introduce new screening criteria for the Oscars that require performers and producers to include women, disabled people and racial minorities.