Sign Gene : The First Deaf Superheroes is a 2017 superhero film written, produced, and directed by Emilio Insolera. The story revolves around a deaf agent, Tom Clerc (played by Insolera), from New York City who is a carrier of a powerful genetic mutation. He is sent to Japan with his colleague, Ken Wong, to investigate crimes believed to have been committed by Japanese deaf mutants.[4] The film's characters, both villains and agent, use sign language as their superhuman powers. The film also stars Carola Insolera, Ben Bahan, Hiroshi Vava, Humberto Insolera, and Noboru Kuragawa.

Sign Gene
"Sign Gene" poster.png
Teaser poster
Directed byEmilio Insolera
Produced by
  • Emilio Insolera
  • Ben Bahan
  • Dirksen Bauman
  • Alberto Abruzzese
Written byEmilio Insolera
Pluin Productions
Release date
  • September 8, 2017 (2017-09-08) (Milan)
  • September 14, 2017 (2017-09-14) (Italy)
  • April 13, 2018 (2018-04-13) (US)
  • September 14, 2018 (2018-09-14) (Japan)
Running time
70 minutes

The film makes several references to deaf history, culture, and sign language linguistics. Six languages are spoken and signed in the film: English, Japanese, Italian, American Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language, and Italian Sign Language.


Tom Clerc is a deaf secret agent who comes from a multi-generational deaf family. He is a descendant of Laurent Clerc, considered the Father of the Deaf in America. In the film Laurent Clerc brought sign language to the United States two centuries earlier. Tom is a carrier of SGx29, the powerful Sign Gene mutation. However, he lost a significant portion of his powers during a battle with Jux Clerc. Jux Clerc is Tom's brother and the leader of the group, an evil organization dedicated to exterminating Sign Gene mutants.

Hugh Denison is the head of the Q.I.A. (QuinPar Intelligence Agency), an agency affiliated with the Pentagon and composed of selected agents with Sign Gene mutation. Denison sends Tom Clerc and his colleague Ken Wong to Osaka, Japan. The pair end up fighting a Japanese gang led by Tatsumi Fuwa. During their encounters with the gang, Denison and Clerc learn that they can only win the conflict by conforming to the Japanese way. Along with his journey, Tom Clerc learns that his powers are not lost.[5][6][7][8][9]


  • Emilio Insolera as Tom Clerc, mutant with superhuman powers, descendant of Laurent Clerc.
  • Carola Insolera as Kate Massieu, descendant of Jean Massieu, pioneering deaf educator.
  • Ben Bahan as Hugh Denison, head of the QuinPar Intelligence Agency and descendant of James Denison.
  • Humberto Insolera as Jux Clerc, the face of the (International Genetic Genealogy Organization). The name of the organization makes reference to the Milan Conference in 1880.
  • Hiroshi Vava as Tatsumi Fuwa, boss of a Japanese gang.
  • Danny Gong as Ken Wong, Tom Clerc's colleague at the QuinPar Intelligence Agency.
  • Noboru Kurakawa as Tatsumi Fuwa's personal bodyguard

Sign gene mutationEdit

Sign Gene is a genetic mutation present in only 29 out of the 300 genes responsible for causing the deafness. All deaf mutants who are carriers of this genetic mutation turn out to be superheroes with the ability to create superpowers through the use of Sign language. They are blessed with arcane powers such as being able to make doors close by signing the word 'close', or having their hands metamorphose into weapons which can spew fire by signing the word 'weapon.'[10]



Sign Gene was shot in Japan, the United States, and Italy. Originally starting out as a short film, it garnered a groundswell of interest which led Insolera to believe the film had a chance of a larger production and attracting a bigger audience. He rewrote the script into a feature-length film.[11] Casting opportunities were advertised by of word of mouth. Insolera was especially interested in actors who were native signers fluent in sign language.[10][12] The film is designed with a Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse touché.[13]

Historical, cultural and linguistic referencesEdit

Sign Gene makes several coded references to deaf history, deaf culture, and sign language linguistics. Q.I.A. stands for QuinPar Intelligence Agency, and QuinPar refers to the five parameters, the phonological components in sign language linguistics that form signs: handshape, movement, location, orientation, and non-manual signals. Agent Tom Clerc shares the surname of a famous figure in deaf history, Laurent Clerc, a deaf educator who brought sign language to the U.S. And is a reference to the Second International Congress on Deaf Education, which took place in Milan, Italy, in 1880. It was there that educators codified their recommendation to eliminate sign language from deaf education”.[14] Figures such as Alexander Graham Bell and Jean Massieu are present in the film as well.[15]


The film had its world premiere on September 8, 2017, in Milan and was released in theaters by the UCI Cinemas on September 14, 2017.[16][17][18] It had its U.S. release on April 13, 2018[19] and release in Japan on September 14th, 2018.[20]

Critical responseEdit

Sign Gene received positive reviews from critics. Michael Rechtshaffen of the Los Angeles Times, described the movie as one with a, "fresh, unique filmmaking voice" and a “fast-paced potpourri of stock footage combined with sign-language and stroboscopic action sequences performed by a deaf cast, video effects simulating grainy, scratchy film stock and that aforementioned all-enveloping sound mix, with an end result that proves as wildly inventive as it is empowering."[15] The Italian newspaper, Avvenire, declared the film will mostly likely please the younger generation, who are "accustomed to the rapid and psychedelic language of Japanese video games or cartoons".[21] Writing for ASVOFF, Giorgia Cantarini said that the story is intricate and "very fascinating. The sounds create an unexpected important part, sometimes overwhelming [to anyone] who is watching. [It] all happens very fast and astonishes you with a vibrant energy."[22] Michela Trigari of Corriere della Sera, called Sign Gene an "experimental film" that uses science fiction as a medium to capture the imagination and "make visible what is invisible to the eyes."[23]

Emilio Insolera appeared on the cover of Tokyo Weekender’s November 2018 issue taken by worldwide known photographer Leslie Kee [24][25] and in thirteen full pages fashion story on Vanity Fair Italia's January 2019 number 5 with Carola Insolera taken by Rosi Di Stefano.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "制作進むろう者の国際共同制作映画 「Sign Gene」|ろうを生きる難聴を生きる".
  2. ^ a b "番組詳細 NHK教育3・佐賀 ろうを生きる 難聴を生きる「進むろう者の映画国際共同制作」<字幕スーパー> (2009/08/16 19:30 ~ 2009/08/16 19:45)".
  3. ^ "Sign Gene". 1 January 2000 – via IMDb.
  4. ^ Backstage (5 May 2009). "'Sign Gene' Emilio Insolera Interview" – via YouTube.
  5. ^ "CINEMA/PERSONAGGI/Ciak, si gira con la lingua dei segni".
  6. ^ sociali, West - quotidiano sulle politiche. "007 in missione con la lingua dei segni in quattro nazioni".
  7. ^ "Sign Gene. La prima generazione di supereroi sordi - Abbanews". 23 March 2017.
  8. ^ SemiColonWeb. "Il primo film con super-eroi sordi nel circuito UCI".
  9. ^ Backstage (8 May 2009). "'Sign Gene' Susan Mather Interview" – via YouTube.
  10. ^ a b TJ (24 October 2015). "Father of Sign Gene". Tokyo Journal. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  11. ^ "Emilio Insolera". 1 December 2009.
  12. ^ "15:24 - "Sign Gene", un film tutto da guardare".
  13. ^ The Games Machine (27 March 2017). "Sign Gene è il nuovo film di supereroi sordi" (in Italian). The Games Machine. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  14. ^ "When Sign Language Is a Superpower". Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Inventive 'Sign Gene' chronicles derring-do of first deaf superheroes". Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  16. ^ "A Settembre nelle sale "Sign Gene" un film diretto e ideato da Emilio Insolera" (in Italian). 21 July 2017.
  17. ^ "UCI Cinemas - Sign Gene". UCI Cinemas (in Italian). Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  18. ^ "UCI Cinemas Sign Gene". Ad (in Italian). Retrieved 27 August 2017.
  19. ^ Crust, Kevin (8 April 2018). "L.A. movie openings, April 13". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ Kuramoto, Takuya (19 September 2018). "ろう者のスーパーヒーロー映画、監督が手話で作品解説!" (in Japanese). Cinema Today.
  21. ^ "Quando il super eroe è sordo" (in Italian). Avvenire. 10 September 2017.
  22. ^ "Sign Gene by Emilio Insolera arrives at cinema". ASVOFF. 10 September 2017.
  23. ^ Trigari, Michela (12 September 2017). "Sign Gene è il nuovo film di supereroi sordi" (in Italian). Corriere della Sera.
  24. ^ Hernon, Matthew (1 November 2018). ""Sign Gene": Emilio Insolera on Creating the World's First Deaf Superhero Film". Tokyo Weekender.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Pernet, Diane. "Emilio & Carola Insolera will be featured in Vanity Fair Italy on January 30". Asvoff. Retrieved 31 January 2019.

External linksEdit