Takarazuka!

Click here to watch a short video with clips from the show: Takarazuka: Roget / Rock On!

Seriously, click above–it’s much easier to understand if you see it for yourself! :)

So, last weekend was jam-packed–in addition to Kimono Day and Arashiyama, I and three others made a trip out to Osaka to see the Takarazuka Revue at the Takarazuka Grand Theater. It wasn’t an officially-sanctioned CLS field trip–though it certainly should have been! Pure amazingness!

Takarazuka takes some explaining (particularly if you didn’t click on the link to that video above). And I’m mostly going to draw from my previous entry on the subject, since I am short on time these days and I attended a Takarazuka show back in July 2006 at their Tokyo theater (the Osaka venue is the original though). Anyway, Takarazuka is an all-female musical theatre group; I studied it in college as an interesting example of sexuality in Japan. There are six troupes (“Flower”, “Moon”, “Snow”, “Star”, “Cosmos”, and “Superior Members”) which have over 80 members each and perform predominantly at their home stages in Osaka and Tokyo. 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, one of the best performing arts academies in Japan. Over 1,000 girls audition each year, but only 40-50 are accepted. After passing, girls take classes in singing, acting, dancing (Japanese, ballet, tap, and modern), music history, theatre theory, etiquette and more from 9-5 each day.

After one 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 are never enough spaces for all of the girls who would like to be otokoyaku. The decision is based on height, physique, voice, etc. 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 1914 rationale was that the musumeyaku would learn to be the ideal women, while the otokoyaku would learn to empathize with men and thus become better wives). 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 schoolgirls 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, three official magazines, and of course, a plethora of collectibles.

The first half of the show I saw (“Roget”) was a story about a young man whose family was murdered in the last days of World War II. As an adult, he becomes an investigator and continually searches for the villain who killed his parents and sister. Anyway, the costumes and story line were very 1950s–lots of men suits and hats and women in pencil skirts. Not too much singing. Pretty low key for a Takarazuka production, really.

The second half (Rock On!), by contrast, was *amazingly* over the top. (Again, you really should click on the link to the video above). Basically, we were treated to a solid hour of singing and dancing. Some of my favorite numbers included:

– A fantastic opener that smacked of space opera
– A stunning rendition of “Goldfinger,” (sung in heavily accented English)
– An extended number involving “Shiny Stockings” (my fave Count Basie song)
– A number that started with a spoken introduction about “two sexy ladies” and ended with the aforementioned ladies shooting and killing all of the men (played by women, of course) around them
– Several great routines using the infamous staircase and lots of feathers

All in all, it was money and time well spent. If you’re in the mood for all-out spectacle, there’s nothing quite like Takarazuka! Highly recommended.

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