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Children’s social worker has bit part in Cannes award-winning film

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August 15, 2015

Children’s social worker has bit part in Cannes award-winning film

Children's support group worker Masaki Murao was studying abroad at a university in Turkey in 2013 when he found himself cast as an extra in a Turkish drama.

Released in 2014, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s "Winter Sleep" went on to win the Palme d'Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Set in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey, the film centers around a family running a hotel. Murao and Junko Yokomizo play a Japanese couple in "Winter Sleep," and Murao shares a short scene in the movie where he and the protagonist, Haluk Bilginer, discuss the merits of wasabi.

The 24-year-old only appears for 1 minute and 17 seconds in the film, but his lines were improvised, and he was not told the camera was rolling when the scene was filmed.

"When (Bilginer) asked me where I came from, I replied (that I was from) Kobe, and he said he knew of the place," Murao says. "Haluk mentioned a major earthquake that hit Turkey in 1999, and also said that the reconstruction of Kobe was encouraging."

But it was only the wasabi talk that was used in the film.

"I wish our talk about the earthquake had been used," Murao says with a smile.

Born and raised in Kobe, Murao was raised by his father along with two siblings after his mother committed suicide when he was in the sixth grade.

Murao attended a commercial high school in Kobe.

After talking with a peer who was also from a single-parent family, Murao realized he was not the only one who was faced with poverty and a sense of isolation. He decided he wanted to work in a field that assisted such children.

Murao worked two jobs, one as a clerk at a gas station and the other as a waiter at an "izakaya" (tavern), to save up for school. He went on to study at Hokkaido University's Faculty of Education.

Murao came to Turkey in 2012 on an overseas study program. In February 2013, just before he was to return to Japan, he was approached by a Turkish teacher about appearing in a film as an extra.

After sending his headshot to the production staff by e-mail, Murao received a reply saying he got the part and was instructed to come to Cappadocia immediately.

After filming was wrapped up and he returned to Japan, Murao learned on the Internet that the film won the Palme d'Or, the highest prize awarded at Cannes.

One film review of "Winter Sleep" said there are many lines edged with a sense of stagnation, however, the young Japanese couple serve as a contact point with the outside world.

But Murao says he felt a bit embarrassed when he read another review that pointed out that there is a scene when the main character has a chat with Japanese guests "in broken English about the merits of wasabi."

In June of this year, he became secretary-general of the newly established Tokyo-based support group for children called Usnova.

For many years, Murao had blamed himself for his mother’s death and felt compelled to “do something” that matters. It was with the founding of Usnova coinciding with the late June release of "Winter Sleep" that he finally began to forgive himself.

"It's a curious turn of fate," Murao says. "I want to pass down the goodwill I received to children of the next generation in a natural manner like the film."