Would you like to learn about Takarazuka? ^_^
The Takarazuka Kagekidan (Takarazuka Girls Opera Group, officially translated as Takarazuka Revue Company) is made up of 5 troupes with over 80 members in each. These are called Hana, Tsuki, Hoshi, Yuki, and Sora (Flower, Moon, Star, Snow, and Cosmos). Each troupe has a top star who leads in most productions of that troupe, playing the main male role. There is also a top star playing the main female roles. The rest of the cast is the chorus, each member having a grade (as in school). This grade number tells how many years since her debut. The actresses are called Takarasiennes.
Each troupe performs 2 shows a year at the Dai Geikijou (Grand Theatre) in Takarazuka city, 1 show at the Tokyo Takarazuka Gekijou, and other performances taking place at the Takarazuka Bow Hall, Theatre Drama City, Asakusa ACT Theatre,and Tokyo Seinen Kan (Tokyo Youth Hall). The Revue also goes abroad to perform. They've been to North and South America, Europe, and Asia.
So what do I like about it so much? Mosty the amazing acting talent. The players of men's roles are very skilled in what they do.... for moments one forgets they're not really men. In the Japanese language men and women have different styles of speech from each other. I've been a fan of anime and manga (Japanese animation and comics) for a number of years and have been exposed to the Japanese ways of talking. The Takarazuka actresses are really great at it! Every movement by these actresses has thought put into it so that they give an image of how men really are. It's very fun to watch them.
Add to this the music and dancing. The Revue has gifted choreographers who create the dances, some unlike any I've ever seen before. After retiring from a troupe, some of the Takarasiennes become choreographers themselves, or take other places in the management of the company. Each number has a mood and theme. Oftentimes the performers dance down the giant staircase in colorful costumes, amid shining lights on each step, colored spotlights, and a big elaborate set. The songs come in all varieties from love ballads to rock to slow jazz to Broadway showtunes to traditional Japanese....
The Takarazuka Revue Company was founded in 1914 by Kobayashi Ichizo, president of Hankyu Railways Corporation, in order to attract more people to using the rail line to Takarazuka, a city known for its hot springs. He built the Grand Theatre in 1924 - it's connected to Takarazuka Familyland, the Hankyu amusement park. Kobayashi noticed that people were becoming more interested in Western, Broadway-style theatre than traditional Japanese types such as noh and kabuki. Kobayashi envisioned an all-female revue combining the traditional and the new, which would be a novel opposite of the all-male kabuki.
In order to join, girls between the ages of 15 and 18 must go through a highly competitive audition to get into the Takarazuka Ongaku Gakkou (Music School). It is one of the best performing arts academies in Japan. Over a thousand girls audition each year, but only approximately 40-50 make it in! Even after passing, it's not an easy road.... girls take classes in singing, acting, dancing (Japanese, ballet, tap, and modern), music history, theatre theory, etiquette and more from 9-5 each day, as well as do the daily cleaning of the dorms and classrooms. Schools in Japan do not have school janitors; cleaning is the students' work. At this school, however, vacuum cleaners and other electrical appliances are not allowed - in order to build character, humility, and stamina!
After 1 year at the school each student becomes either an otokoyaku (player of men's roles) or musumeyaku (player of women's roles). The starring otokoyaku are by far the most popular of the actresses in the Revue, so there is never enough spaces for all of the girls who would like to be otokoyaku. The decision is based on height, physique, voice, etc.
The students now divide into two seperate classes; the otokoyaku study how to act like, talk like, and move like men, while the musumeyaku train in being a strong and graceful feminine counter to the male roles. The students learn techniques that signify gender, including stylized movements, gestures, and speech patterns. After their training is complete the students will join one of the troupes.
Nearly all of the fans of Takarazuka are jr. high& high school girls and middle-aged women. A lot of them enjoy the portrayal of pure romance, rather than a physical attraction between a man and woman. Many of the fans adore the Takarasiennes and will stand outside of the theatre after a show, waiting to get a glimpse of their favorite stars on their way home, and maybe a photo or autograph. There are fan clubs, 3 official magazines, as well as lots of neat collectibles to buy. I think it's so cool that theatre can have such fandom in Japan. In the U.S. I don't see excited fans of musical performers like those of movie/TV actors or popular singers. I wonder why this is, since musical performers can sing, dance, act, and have stage presence! How talented to be able to do all of that! ^_^
Some people's first impression of an all-female theatre that performs romance stories is that they must all be gay. The Takarazuka organization has said that this isn't the case. The stars often appear on TV and radio programs, and they generally don't speak or act like men offstage. The musicals are not about gay characters, nor do fans think of them as such. It's just women acting in male roles. =) As one of my friends said, "Otokoyaku are men on stage and women off it - there is no ambiguity between the two positions. To see them as ambiguous in gender undervalues their art." The musical FAKE LOVE contains an eccentric drunk father, an old emotional man with white beard, and a godfather of the mafia who's sickly and needs a breathing apparatus! Just as the stars are acting these parts, so do they act in every other role.
Takarazuka has been stereotyped as pure and innocent in acccordance with its motto. A rule formed by Kobayashi when he started the Revue is that the actresses must be unmarried and virgins while in the company. Kobayashi wanted for parents of the Music School students to not have to worry about their daughters. Performances are considered wholesome family entertainment.
Before leaving for Japan I read parts of 2 books about Takarazuka and I felt that they contradict each other. In one book the author says she felt "the auditorium sizzle with eroticized energy", while the other book describes that viewers of the show abroad found Takarazuka to be "disappointingly sexless". My view on it now is that Takarazuka shows are about the same in terms of sensual content as a Western musical, though from time to time there will be a scene that I wouldn't take a child to see. An interesting thing about Takarazuka is that the actresses do not kiss on stage in full view. They turn around so their faces are not visible to the audience, or the lights go down. Sometimes it is implied that the characters make love in the storyline, but similarly the lights go down or the characters sweep across the stage into a bedroom and the scene changes. That part of the story is not actually shown at all.
To become a top star means working one's way up through the company. Popularity won't always let an actress shoot to the top, though a large fan following and how much the company likes her can let her jump past others who have been in the troupe longer. Sometimes an actress must switch troupes. Recently, upon reaching third star, 10 of the actresses were automatically placed into the Senka (Specialty Course) troupe. This troupe was originally only for members above the age of 40, but now includes some of these secondary and third stars as well. Members of Senka perform in the productions of any other troupe, switching from one performance to another. For example, a Senka Takarasienne can perform in a Flower Troupe show, and next in a Star Troupe show, and so on. The main difference of this system from the old way is that an actress may not simply rise from third to second to top star in one troupe. The most-loved Senka star might reach top when a top star retires, regardless of which troupe she was previously a member. Takarazuka is currently in a time of transition; the role of Senka stars is not yet defined.
A top star stays at the top until she retires, and then a Senka star or other secondary star moves up. When an actress is the main star of her troupe, she must maintain her popularity and likeableness. Takarazuka isn't meant to be a permanent career. Most of the recent top stars have retired after 2-3 years in the top position, often while in their 30s. After a star retires she might go on to a career in movies, TV dramas, singing, voice acting, or the like; open her own club which will be frequented by her devoted fans; or get married and fade into obscurity as a housewife - whatever she wants to do.
Additions, corrections, and comments are greatly appreciated! Please e-mail me by removing the spaces: dioptase @ quixium .com
Information taken from "Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Cuture in Modern Japan" by Jennifer Robertson, "The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture" by Mark Shilling, and my own experience attending the Revue in Japan and watching performances/documentaries on video.
A large thank you goes out to Oona and Yuki for sending me corrections. Hontou ni arigatou gozaimasu! ^-^