From their encounter to "LISTEN"
Background of creating this work
At first, I had no intention of making a film on the theme of "music of the Deaf" (Makihara)
Since I was a child, I have seen many different people use various sign languages. As a matter of course, I was aware that the sign language itself has a "hand quality" like "voice quality" through a complex combination of factors such as hand and facial movements, word-to-word connections, flow, pauses, tempo, and breathing. I also loved to see the various physical expressions of people. Especially, I was fascinated by the facial expressions and body movements of the people dancing and singing. However, I cannot directly experience the very sounds that they are hearing and creating. This made me feel indigestion. Hearing people can be moved emotionally by the sound. While I can tell the presence of sound from the vibrations, it has never moved me emotionally (When I saw the performance of "Laboratory of Play Ban’yū Inryoku”*1, I felt a rush of emotion in the vibrations).
However, when I was a university student, I attended a sign language poetry workshop by Shizue Sazawa*2, which led me to realize that sign language itself had "something" akin to music. At that time, Ms. Sazawa was performing "Furusato" in sign language poetry. She didn't just apply sign language to Japanese but "translated" the Japanese lyrics into the grammar of sign language to make the sign language itself look comfortable. When I saw the sign language poem for the first time, I was deeply moved by the sign language that expressed the verse "Megurite" in the Japanese lyrics. I can't explain it well in Japanese, but Ms. Sazawa's expressions describing the scene still come vividly to my mind even in the present. The expression was definitely sign language, but I saw no language but "something" else, not rhythm but "something like a melody". It was my awakening experience.
Time passed, and I began to aspire to become a film director. When I finished shooting the short film and was thinking about what to do next, the theme of "music of the Deaf" suddenly came to mind. However, it was not the approach taken in this film from the beginning. The first thing I decided to do was to try to "translate" the auditory music into visual music of the Deaf. In preparation for realizing the project, I deepened my music theory knowledge as I studied auditory music. I began to think that if consonance and dissonance are created by combinations of sounds, then the same should be true for sign language.
But then I hit a brick wall. This project was based on auditory music, so it was essential to have the cooperation of hearing people who understood the music. Yet, the hearing people were unable to imagine the "music-like thing" created by the sign language poetry, and I could not show them exactly what I was trying to achieve. To explain my concept, I researched film works from around the world. For example, the opening scene of "In the Land of the Deaf" (Nicolas Philibert, 1992) and the scene where the main character describes the sea in "Children of a Lesser God" (Randa Haines, 1986) are partial glimpses of it. Still, I couldn't find the exact one I was looking for.
And Deaf also answered that they could all "understand" the existence of visual music in sign language, but sign language as "music" had not been pursued so far, and it still remained "something like music". Then, I thought it would be a good idea to create "music of the Deaf" myself. Still, when it came to choreographing it as a physical expression, it did not work out as expected, and I did not know how to construct it…
*１Laboratory of Play Ban’yū Inryoku
A Japanese theater company formed after the death of Shuji Terayama by J. A. Caesar, who was involved in the music and co-direction of the Tenjō Sajiki, and the other members of the Tenjō Sajiki.
Deaf. Appeared in this film. She is involved in artistic activities related to sign language, mainly through stage performances and workshops.
"What kind of dance is unique to the Deaf?" I have been searching in the dark for answers. (DAKEI)
When did I start to get interested in music?
When I was in elementary school. While I was playing alone under the shade of a plastic white corrugated sheet, the surroundings suddenly darkened, the wind blew strongly, and I looked up at the sky as if in response. The sky is covered with gray clouds with rich tones, like a typhoon forecast, drifting at a moderate speed. I didn't think of it as "music" at the time, but now it was "music" to me. This thought still lingers as a fundamental part of my life.
When I was in junior high school, I was fascinated by American music videos that I happened to see on TV. I watched them in the middle of the night, hiding from my parents. I turned off the volume of the TV so that I wouldn't be spotted. The time that flows in the moving image is filled with a variety of expressions. I could feel the resonance and vibration from the vocalist's facial expression changes, the player's hand movements, and the camera work.
Upon becoming a university student, I was led to join the Japanese Theatre of the Deaf*3 as an actor. After that, I stepped into the world of Butoh as I was encouraged. Initially, I stood on the stage as one of the group dancers and danced to match the others, following their movements. I hadn't really thought about the music, which was supposed to be one of the essential elements of the performance. It was just a feeling of massive bass sounding. Audiences and other Butoh dancers sometimes wondered how I could dance in a group with such perfect synchronization. Sometimes, when I was trying to match one dancer in a group, I would accidentally match the timing or the form even when the dancer made a mistake.
As a solo artist, now that I am independent, when I create a stage for my group or solo work, I often have a musician on stage to dance with live music.
Mostly, I decide on the choreography first, then the music. When I improvised, I danced while sensing the musicians' emotions and feelings through their movements and the surface of their skin. Also, I sensed the space I was in, the audience's gaze, and their breathing. As I continued in this way for many years, I asked myself, "What can I express in a new way besides Butoh? What is the dance of the Deaf? As a person who lives in close contact with sign language, I thought I could create a dance from it.". I was aware of sign language poetry and sign mime (a method of expression created by combining the sign language and mime features). Still, I felt that there was something not quite right about them. I was not looking for something easy to explain and understand, but for the feeling of something like an abstract painting moving and transforming.
While searching in the dark for "what is a dance unique to Deaf," I tried to incorporate small movements that hinted at sign language, deconstructed the words, transformed their meanings into physical expression, and so on for about 10 years. At the university where I work as a lecturer, I have had students who have taken Butoh as part of a liberal arts course in sign language put together several unrelated (sign language) words and have them dance with their hands without thinking about their meanings, or have them adjust the movements of the words at various speeds not normally used, and then use their entire bodies to express these movements of the signs.
I also tried to encourage Deaf people to create from within themselves rather than following auditory music, and Deaf dance as a "new genre" where only the upper body is used and the hands can play in space. I'm hoping that one of the Deaf people will open up such new horizons…
※３The Japanese Theatre of the Deaf
The representative is Akihiro YONAIYAMA. The theater focuses on visual expression and the attractiveness of sign language, including sign language Kyogen, original theater pieces, movement theater, and sign mime.
From the Resonance of Two Artists to a Film Exploring "Music of the Deaf"
Makihara, who wanted to translate auditory music into visual music and visualize it, asked the Butoh dancer DAKEI for his cooperation and attended his Butoh lectures. Then something began to penetrate into Makihara's mind. Her intuition told her he could elevate the "music of the Deaf" to a higher level. DAKEI, who had always thought that Deaf people could express "music" on stage, was also inspired by means of the film adaptation by Makihara, like a new branch sprouting into existence. The resonance between the two artists led to exploring a film with the theme of "music of the Deaf".
How do they deconstruct the language of sign language, transform its meaning, and make it emote from within the body of the Deaf performers? How can they make their emotions and sensations come out in a place where they move back and forth between the two realms of language and non-language? Makihara and DAKEI kept trying and trying.
However, the performers were confused at first. They had a preconceived notion that dance was performed following universal music, rhythm, and melody. "How can you call it music if you can't hear it?” The silent questioning from the performers stood in front of Makihara and DAKEI.
Nevertheless, they were still convinced of the existence of "music of the Deaf," even if it was not in an exact form. They did not give up and lectured the performers in various ways. For example, some hand signs do not make sense as static forms alone, but only when they are moved in a specific direction to some extent. By shifting and pausing the lines of movement as if playing with them, some moments seem to be musical. It is a point in the "movement," and they put on it what comes out from the inside of the performer's body. In addition, a variety of elements such as eye and jaw movements and facial expressions are intertwined to create "music of the Deaf".
To the hearing person, a person who does not know sign language, this might be perceived as a mere performance or as a kind of "sign language song" that translates Japanese into sign language. Many hearing people believe that sign language is a simple communication tool adapted to Japanese, and this misunderstanding is hard to avoid. But as the American linguist, Noam Chomsky, has clearly stated, sign language is a "visual language" with the same complexity and richness as the spoken language. And a Deaf people is nothing but a linguistic minority whose mother tongue is a sign language with its own distinctive structure. This means that Japanese and sign language are essentially two different languages with different grammars. They cannot be used simultaneously. And sign language used in conjunction with speech, such as traditional "sign language songs," are insufficient as a visual language. In this respect, there is a contradiction and discomfort in referring to "sign language songs" as "music of the Deaf".
Makihara and DAKEI sensed the "spacing" characteristic of sign language in the expressions of Deaf who use Japanese Sign Language. And through the experience of being surrounded by Japanese speakers who are users of a different language, they know Japanese Sign Language has an entirely different kind of rhythm from spoken language. If so, music should be born from the unique "spacing" of sign language, just as Japanese songs are taken from the Japanese language's rhythm. They were convinced that this was what we could call "music of the Deaf".
They also discussed at length how to bridge the gap between the eyes of Deaf and hearing people. For the audience of hearing people, they agreed not to take an explanatory approach in the film to put more emphasis on making the audience retrace the meaning of "music of the Deaf". They also decided to have ordinary people with no experience on stage in the film. Music exists inside everyone. To embody that in the film, they didn't want to make a film with only professional actors. They concluded it was not appropriate for the film. They didn't want to set a barrier to "music of the Deaf" that anyone should be able to enjoy. The appearance of ordinary people was also essential to represent the reality of "the Deaf in Japan" today. By interweaving their physicality, emotions, and cinematic grammar, which can be shared by the Deaf and the hearing, Makihara and DAKEI expressed the gap between the two worlds and what they have in common.
Makihara and DAKEI had a thoughtful discussion about the title. They came up with many candidates before finally settling on "LISTEN". Since they couldn't find a suitable substitute for "music of the Deaf," and there was a suggestion to use only symbols instead of words. As such, it was quite challenging to define this new experiment between Deaf and hearing, sign language and Japanese, music and language.
Makihara focuses on the "music" of the Deaf and sign language. DAKEI pursues physical expression as a dancer and has an in-depth knowledge of both the linguistic and non-linguistic functions of sign language. Through these two artists' encounters, "Listen" is a film that sublimates "music of the Deaf" into a new dimension. While sign language poetry has long been recognized among the Deaf, they are still only vaguely aware of the "music of the Deaf". That is why they are hoping that this film will open the door to a new kind of "music" from the ground of Deaf identity. This film is just the beginning. It's not even completed. Makihara and DAKEI want you to feel that the "music" is definitely there.