Ryo Kase in Like Someone in Love (Best Supporting Actor):
I’m going to give it to you point-blank: you haven’t seen the single best performance so far this year unless you’ve seen Ryo Kase in Abbas Kiarostami’s former Palme d’ Or competitor Like Someone in Love. Let’s face it, full-blooded Asian actors are never given the time of day from awards groups, especially AMPAS. You either have to be of mixed descent or star in an ultra-heavy awards contender (Sessue Hayakawa in The Bridge Over River Kwai), or have a key role in a commercial hit with a high degree of cultural impact (Pat Morita in The Karate Kid) to even get your name out there. And thus, Ryo Kase has zero chance at an Academy Award® nomination because he stars in a small film by an auteur director that most people probably won’t even see this year. That is a massive tragedy. Kase has always been one of Japan’s most gifted thespians, as seen in his heartbreaking turn as an ex-Special Forces officer whose act of kindness was responded with a trip to the frontlines of Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima). But in Like Someone in Love, Kase stems forth one of the most unlikely sympathetic portrayals of a movie-type we all know and hate so very much: the dreaded abusive boyfriend.
Plagued with the pressure of a Tokyo citizen trying to compete with the machismo-obsessed West, Kase’s Noriaki somehow convinces himself that his girlfriend Akiko, who secretly moonlights as a prostitute, is his property and he must “protect” her at all cost. I feel like Noriaki is the unfortunate result of Asian society, specifically men, being pegged as “effeminate” by the Western world. You only need to watch the Bruce Lee-starring Enter the Dragon to see just how effeminate and asexual Hollywood believes the Asian male to be (Curiously, Bruce Lee’s protagonist is the only one of the multiracial trio who forgoes sex). This is why you pity Noriaki more than outright hate him, angry that he’s been brainwashed into thinking that authoritatively controlling your girlfriend/wife by whatever means necessary is how one behaves in order to be accepted as a “man” in Japanese culture. Even scarier is that such behavior equates to love in Noriaki’s twisted mentality. Kase embraces this character’s insanity without reservation, but never comes across as “the bad guy” even though we all realize he is indeed one boyfriend you don’t want to piss off. Kase channels Noriaki like a lost soul, just wanting to do right by Akiko and society’s supposed expectations of him. Kase, sweaty and eyes sunken in so deep they are almost lost for good, nails an intimate scene between Noriaki and Akiko’s sex client Tadashi, who Noriaki believes to be Akiko’s grandfather that he’s just now meeting for the first time. As Noriaki, Kase lets it all out, confessing his superficial worries about Akiko with such observable distress, as if he’s just found out he needs to disarm a bomb that will go off in thirty seconds. I literally sat in awe the entire time watching the scene unfold, amazed by how Kase was able to pull us so deeply into his character’s sorrow in such a brief amount of time. Kase isn’t even in the movie for that long, but his performance is all you can think about after you depart Kiarostami’s mini universe and let it linger on in your mind a bit. The good news is that I wasn’t the only one echoing praise after watching Kase in Like Someone in Love. Ryo Kase was nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” at the Asian Film Awards earlier this year for his role in the aforementioned film. Although he didn’t win (what?!), I’m so happy he was recognized by his home continent and I will do my very best to build the buzz around his performance here in the States. Perhaps AMPAS can right their many years of wrongfully ignoring performances from full-blooded Asian actors by nominating Ryo Kase for “Best Supporting Actor” at the Oscars next year. He most certainly deserves it.