Move Over Broadway, It’s Takarazuka Time!

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On July 10, I went to the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater to see the Star Troupe perform a show called “Dancer Serenata” combined with a dance portion themed “Celebrity.” It was my fourth Takarazuka performance, and I have to say, I only enjoy it more and more each time.

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So, what exactly is Takarazuka? The Revue has a rather fascinating history, but Takarazuka’s foremost characteristic is that all of the performers are women. It was founded in 1913 by Ichizo Kobayashi, president of Hankyu Railways, with the goal of boosting train sales and business in the town of Takarazuka (near Osaka). The idea was sort of a reverse kabuki situation. In kabuki, men play all the roles, and it is a considered a more traditional form of Japanese theater (although kabuki itself is of relatively recent origins); however, in Takarazuka, women are the only ones to take the stage, and in contrast to more traditional Japanese theater, they perform lavish Western-style musical revues. The male role players are called otokoyaku; they are generally thought to be the more talented performers and generate the most fan support. The female role players are called musumeyaku. (Read more about Takarazuka in my previous post here. You can also read more about the troupes and “star system” here.)

Although this setup might seem fairly revolutionary in terms of gender roles, the Takarazuka founder found an interesting way to justify the existence of cross-dressing male leads. While the musumeyaku would of course be learning to be the ideal women, the otokoyaku would learn to truly understand men—and consequently, understand how to make them happy. Interesting rationalization, don’t you think? Of course, I guess it also works the other way: according to the Takarazuka website, “The male roles are able to be portrayed so well and with so much affection specifically because they are portrayed by women, fascinating and charming the female audience.This is because they are played by those who know a woman’s feelings best. It can be said that this is what holds women captive to the beautiful and graceful world born in the Takarazuka.” So, I guess the otokoyaku can pretty much charm whomever they want. ;)

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Photo: Official Dancer Serenata / Celebrity flyer

I actually think that “Dancer Serenata” was one of the more entertaining Takarazuka plays I have seen. I was struck by the amount of talent in the troupe. The Star Troupe is known for its outstanding otokoyaku, and it really showed, with lots of cast members featured in songs. (Read more about the six troupes here.)

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Photo: Official Dancer Serenata / Celebrity program

I was actually quite impressed with the musumeyaku as well. I have tended to find the female roles a little bland in the plays I’ve seen in the past—it often seems to be really clear that the otokoyaku are the main attraction, and the female performers are just supporting roles. But in this play, perhaps because it is about feisty Latin women, there were some great female performances.

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Photo: Official Dancer Serenata / Celebrity program

The main female lead, Nene Yumesaki, and the main male lead, Reon Yuzuki (pictured above), both put in particularly good performances. They seem to have great chemistry with one another.

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Photo: Official Dancer Serenata / Celebrity program

As for the dance half (“Celebrity”), it wasn’t my favorite set of numbers, but it was notable in that they really stuck to the theme and incorporated it throughout the set of (usually disparate) musical sets. The pieces were dominated by Latin and jazz music, although there were a few pretty epic almost space opera-like moments thrown in for good measure.

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Anyway, as I said above, this was my fourth Takarazuka show. There are really an incredible variety of plays and dance themes. The first show I saw was “Rome at Dawn” (Moon Troupe, 2006)—a retelling of the story of Julius Caesar. The second was a post World War II crime story called “Roget” (Snow Troupe, 2010). And the third was about an Italian suit maker conflicted at the prospect of mass-producing his suits in the US called “Classico Italiano” (Cosmos Troupe, 2011). The very first picture in this post is actually from the dance set following the latter play, which was called “Nice Guy!!” The posters above give you some idea of the variety involved. I still want to see one of the really extravagant period pieces, like “The Rose of Versailles,” someday. Those look absolutely amazing!

There are some great-looking shows coming up in the next few months. The Moon Troup is doing a rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater from August 10 to September 9, which looks pretty great. The Snow Troup is also doing a medical drama called “双曲線上のカルテ” at the Nippon Seinen-ken Hall from August 8 to August 13. If you’re attending a show at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, tickets range from 3,500 to 11,000 yen. I recommend the cheap seats—the theater is structured such that you can see pretty well from most places in the house, so there’s no need to spend a lot of money unless you really want to see the performers up close. I usually buy the cheapest tickets and bring along a pair of binoculars for when I really want to see facial expressions or marvel at the number of sequins on the costumes.

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And of course, one of the highlights of Takarazuka is seeing the dedicated fans waiting for their favorite star outside the theater after the performance. Fans of different stars dress up in different matching outfits—sometimes scarves, sometimes shirts or sweaters (as seen above). The relationship between Takarazuka fans and their stars is also the subject of some interesting academic research, if you’re interested in learning more. (You can read about some of the basics here.)

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