For my second Japan Cuts screening of 2020, I decided to stick with the light and fun atmosphere established by On-Gaku: Our Sound. Extro (a portmanteau of “extra” and “maestro”) ended up being the perfect companion piece—a comedic mockunentary that celebrates the hardworking background performers that add texture, color, and authenticity to the settings of your favorite movies and television shows.
As a longtime production assistant, I found the subject matter to be extremely relatable: I’ve been the poor sap that had to rush latecomers through hair and makeup before crew call, track down troublemakers that snuck away for an unscheduled cigarette break in between camera setups, and remind greenhorns to avoid staring straight into the lens. It would be easy to make these oft-overlooked bit players (who, paradoxically, tend to remain completely invisible if they’re doing their jobs properly) the butt of a mean-spirited joke; fortunately, despite the film’s tongue-in-cheek tone (a few of the vignettes almost resemble Zucker Brothers routines), director Naoki Murahashi always manages to depict the profession with a measure of grace, dignity, and sincerity. After all, it’s impossible not to admire anyone willing to endure a grueling eighteen-hour workday in exchange for a mere eighteen seconds of screen time!
Featuring cameo appearances by several Japanese celebrities (including the late Nobuhiko Obayashi), Extro is a delightful treat for cinephiles and a lovely tribute to the creative process.