A Woman's World

BY GN
Feb 11, 2010

The Takarazuka Revue has an all-female cast which gives kabuki’s all-male cast a run for its money.

takarazuka revue's all female cast

Takarazuka Revue's all-female cast

 

When it comes to gender-bending live theatre and Japan, you may first think of centuries-old kabuki, where men play all the roles, whether male or female. While not as old or as famous, it has a rival in the Takarazuka Revue which has an all-female cast.

The Takarazuka tradition came into being in 1914 when Ichizo Kobayashi, the owner of the Osaka-based Hankyu passenger railway decided to open a unique theatre where lavish musicals would be performed, only by women. It continues in popularity today and different components tour worldwide. It should also be noted that in addition to Broadway musicals, some Japanese folk tales have also been fashioned into productions. Women theatre-goers make up about 90% of any given audience. There are two huge performance venues in Japan; one is in the city of Takarazuka (near Osaka) and the other in Tokyo. The better-known actresses have huge and very devoted fan clubs and some of the best performers become celebrities outside of Takarazuka.

So how do you become a troupe member? You, along with two thousand or so other young Japanese aspirants, try out each year for the 50 or so open slots. If you are selected, you embark on a two-year course within the Takarazuka Revue that teaches dancing, singing, acting, and professional stage presence. At the end of the two-year school you'll be given a seven-year contract and assigned one of two roles that will define your career: otokoyaku (male roles) or musumeyaku (literally, daughter roles).

As with any Broadway musical, there are love scenes and physical, romantic moments during each performance. The otokoyaku with their short hair, men's suits, compressed breasts, and (fake) facial hair, look the part of the handsome man as they romance the woman and come just short of actually kissing the girl. Such modesty reminds me of Bollywood movies!

All of this may lead you to wonder if suggestions of lesbianism enter into any of this, whether on the part of the stage performers or the core young female audience. Just as the male performer teases his female performer on stage, I will just end this post with my own tease. Allegations and episodes of actual off-stage scandal involving lesbians have occurred over the decades. For the curious, you can do your own research on that.

If you like live theatre and want a unique Japanese entertainment experience, you may want to buy a ticket to Takarazuka Revue. It will be easier to follow and probably more enjoyable to watch than an afternoon of kabuki. If it's any consolation, most Japanese admit they can't understand nor do they have any interest in watching ancient kabuki theatre.

 

GN blogs at japanexplained.blogspot.com