Ryota Katayose is already big and is certainly getting bigger. Since 2012 he has been a member of Generations from Exile Tribe, a boy band spinoff from the Exile mega-group with a large following in not only Japan but also China and elsewhere in Asia. The 25-year-old has also starred in a number of television dramas and films (2017’s “My Brother Loves Me Too Much,” 2019’s “Prince of Legend”), while voicing the lead role in the hit 2019 Masaaki Yuasa animation “Ride Your Wave.” He currently has 1.3 million followers on Instagram.
In his new film, “Come to Kiss Me at 0:00 AM,” Katayose plays a fictional version of himself — a movie star, named Kaede Ayase, whose megawatt smile sends female fans into a swoon or a fit, or both. Watching it, I was somehow reminded of Paul McCartney in The Beatles’ 1964 film, “A Hard Day’s Night.” There was the same steely professionalism under the boyish exterior and the same cool amusement at the madness swirling around him, though Katayose’s character does what McCartney does not in the aforementioned film: Hang out with an actual teenage girl (Kanna Hashimoto), although one not so besotted (at least initially) as her friends.
Katayose was one of eight young entertainers to receive the “Asian Stars: Up Next” award at the 4th International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM), which was held from Dec. 5 to 10 at various locations in the former Portuguese colony and present-day gambling mecca. Jointly presented by IFFAM and Hollywood movie trade magazine “Variety,” the awards, according to the magazine’s Asia editor, Patrick Frater, “acknowledge performers who may well be on an upwards trajectory at home, but have not yet become household names across the whole planet.” The aim, he added, is to give emerging actors and actresses “their deserved moment in the international spotlight.” (Disclosure: I am the Japan correspondent for “Variety” and Frater is my editor.)
In Macao for all of a day, Katayose took part in a joint press conference where, in serviceable English, he told reporters he hoped to become “a bridge between Japan and the rest of Asia,” and described the award as a “critical turning point” in his career.
I had my own 15 minutes with him in a large, empty room in the Macao Cultural Centre, whose floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the wide Pearl River estuary. Katayose walked in wearing a dazzling light blue suit and the same glowing smile from the film. Otherwise, I realized, he looked nothing like McCartney.
His performance in “Come to Kiss Me at 0:00 AM,” I tell him, struck me as relaxed and natural, if not necessarily the “real” Katayose.
“The director (Takehiko Shinjo) told me he was looking for a completely natural feeling,” he says. “I’ve been performing with a group called Generations, and my work as an actor came from that. What the character experiences felt extremely real to me, so in that sense I could act naturally (in the film).”
I tell him that in prepping for the interview I had come across a YouTube video of him holding The Beatles’ “Let It Be” album. “Is that your father’s influence?” I ask. (Katayose’s father and grandfather were both music teachers.)
“That’s right,” he says.
When I explain to Katayose that he reminds me of McCartney, he scrunches up, surprised and, I hope, delighted. “Really? I’m not worthy,” he says.
I go on with my explanation, telling Katayose that, like himself, McCartney was mainly a musician but came across as very natural when he acted in films.
“I’m happy to hear that,” he says, flashing a smile again. “My father is a music teacher so I’ve been listening to classics since I was a kid. … Music has been very close to me since I was small.”
I ask if there was ever a time, say as a teenager, when he thought his father’s music uncool.
“Not really. I never felt that,” he says. “I was an only child so I had a lot of respect for my parents in that way.”
He goes on to confirm that, despite his professional musical output, his tastes go beyond J-pop.
“I listen to a wide variety (of music),” he says. “I really love hip-hop. I love jazz too, including the older stuff.”
I ask for an example.
“Frank Sinatra,” he says.
I refrain from telling Katayose that “The Voice” is also one of my favorites. Instead I ask if, with his award as a stimulus, he plans to expand his range of professional activities.
“I definitely want to do that,” he says. “And not just in Japan. For example, if I have a chance to do something like a co-production film with China, I want to give it a try. I want to try to work in Chinese and global productions.”
He adds that while he would like to make films in the United States and Europe, he wants to first “see if I can make myself known in nearby Asian countries.”
I tell him his approach reminds me of Takumi Saito’s. This veteran model and actor, known, like Katayose, for his good looks, starred in the 2016 romantic comedy “The Kodai Family” as an elite salaryman who causes women’s hearts to flutter, much like Katayose’s character in “Come to Kiss Me at 0:00 AM.” However, Saito has also played everything from a degenerate gambler (“A Gambler’s Odyssey 2020”) to a sadistic secret police officer (“Saraba Seijaku”), while directing his own indie movies.
“He does interesting work,” says Katayose. “He’s an actor I really respect. If I have the chance, I’d like to do something similar.”
Next year, Katayose tells me, he and his group plan to do a tour. He will also appear in a Japanese TV drama that is currently in production. “But in the second half of the year I’d like to do a movie if I get a chance,” he adds.
Finally, I ask if he has any role models in Japan or elsewhere?
“Not one person, no,” he says, “But there aren’t many actors in Japan who have also been active in Asia,” he says. “I want to be one of them.”
Given his reception from the media in Macao — dozens of local cameramen and reporters surged into the room immediately after our interview ended — Asia is already taking notice.
“Come to Kiss Me at 0:00 AM” is now showing in cinemas nationwide.