The Takarazuka Revue Company is a theatre company formed only by women. Although one might think that the audience is mainly made up of drooling men, spectators are almost entirely female, around 90%, and mainly under 25.
This is due to the fact that young Japanese women find in this institution something psychologically intrinsic and more profound than pure entertainment, something that, in a still male predominant society, represents a way to get away and live one’s own fantasies, feeling that “girl power” they don’t often have in everyday life.
Although Takarazuka often represents love stories , these are far form being vulgar and passion-ridden, but pure and old-fashioned, as they depict love in a romanticized way, almost fairy-like and over-sentimental.
In the productions – characterized by a high-drama content not only in the performances but also in the stage clothes, set design and choreographies – there are strong Japanese traditional elements, integrated with western theatre ones, such as Moulin Rouge feather back-pieces, brightly lit Las Vegas flights of stairs, and explosive endings with loads of glitter and can-can style dancing.
The quintessence of Takarazuka is the representation of “The Rose of Versailles”, story set in XVIIIth Century France where the protagonist, a young girl called Oscar, is raised as a boy. The company has been accused of being lesbian, and although not true, this helped its popularity giving it enough sexual ambiguity and eccentricity, making it a gay community icon after a UK tour in the Nineties.
Le donne che recitano parti maschili sono chiamate otokoyaku, mentre quelle che fanno le parti femminili sono le musumeyaku. L’ascesa fino a queste posizioni prevede un anno di durissima disciplina per chi abbia la grande fortuna di essere scelta: solo 40 o 50 studenti all’anno entrano nella Takarazuka Music School.
The women who play male parts are called otokoyaku, while those who have female parts are called musumeyaku.
For those who are lucky enough to get picked, a hard year’s training is needed to get to these roles: only 40 or 50 students a year are admitted to the Takarazuka Music School.
The rise through the ranks of the newly admitted includes having to walk close to the wall in corridors, endlessly bow to their seniors, as well as taking daily acting, singing, dancing, music, theatre history classes. But there’s more: at the end of the day it’s their duty to clean the dormitories and the classes.
After the first year they can decide to perform as men or as women, before starting another hard year’s training, in which competition will be extremely tough, and only she who demonstrates her worth will become part of the troupe.
Until recent times there were five of these troupes: Hana (Flower), Tsuki (Moon), Hoshi(Star), Yuki (Snow) and Senka (Special course).
In 1998 also Sora (Cosmos) was introduced.
Every year one of theses troupes performs in the company’s native city, the eponymous Takarazuka, where it was founded in 1913 by Ichizo Kobayashi, president of the Hankyu Railways who, with the intention of attracting travellers to his line and business to the city, capitalized on the growing interest in those years for Western-style dancing and singing shows. He therefore created a cast of only unmarried women, and in just 10 years the company became so famous it had it own theatre, the Dai Gekijou(the Grand Theatre). It’s popularity continues nowadays on a global scale.