General Information: Takarazuka Revue
What is it?
The Takarazuka Revue is a Japanese all-female theater company that was founded in 1914 by Kobayashi Ichizou. Its parent company is Hankyu Hanshin Holdings, Inc., a major Japanese business conglomerate. For details on the Revue’s history and historical impact, please see that particular article.
Japanese theater has a long tradition of single-sex theater in kabuki, but while the Revue does perform traditional Japanese plays and dance recitals, the company’s renown and emphasis lies with its glitzy Western-style musicals. As the New York Times theater critic, Stephen Holden, put it upon seeing the Revue perform in Radio City Music Hall, “Takarazuka is Japan’s answer to the Ziegfeld Follies, the Folies-Bergere, Las Vegas floor shows, and the Music Hall’s own spectaculars all rolled into one glittering unwieldy package. ... There is something intrinsically awesome in the sight of rows of showgirls, decked out like floats, descending a grand staircase in formation.”
The image of the rockette dancers (the “showgirls”) descending the grand staircase along their dazzlingly costumed seniors is the most enduring and well-known image of the Revue. However, it is important to note that this grand parade occurs only at the end of a revue (an hourlong collection of song and dance numbers). A revue may be paired with a one-act play, or there may be an abbreviated revue-like finale at the end of a two-act play.
Plays may be written by in-house playwrights for the company, or they may be revivals of popular Western musicals. In the past few years, Takarazuka has staged revivals of Western musicals as varied as “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Me and My Girl,” “Elisabeth,” and “Phantom.”
Besides its unabashedly show-biz image, the Revue is of course known for its all-female company. The company is split into five troupes - Flower, Moon, Star, Snow, and Cosmos, with an additional “Special Course” for members over the age of 40 who wish to transition into a less demanding schedule. Actresses specialize as either otokoyaku (who play almost exclusively male roles) or musumeyaku (who play almost exclusively female roles).
The culture of the Revue is extremely strict, and both actresses and fans obey the unwritten body of rules called the Sumire Code. The Code is designed to protect the image of a company whose motto is “purely, properly, beautifully” - actresses must remain unmarried throughout their tenure with the company, and maintain an impeccable public image. (The restriction on marriage means that most actresses will retire young enough to resume a more mainstream life.) Offstage as well as on, actresses are expected to maintain the appearance of their assigned gender.
Fans follow a complex set of traditions, most of which are related to the private, unofficial system of fan clubs. While the company does not officially recognize such clubs, they command a significant amount of influence. Their most visible presence is at the stage door, where fan club staff organize everyone into neat, quiet lines where everyone waits for their particular star while wearing matching jackets or scarves (club wear). Especially in Tokyo, this can be a tremendous spectacle involving hundreds of fan club members lined up along the streets, and many more non-members gathered behind them to take pictures and generally gawk. For more information on this, please see the page on fan activities.
Takarazuka fans are overwhelmingly female. They can range from junior high school girls to senior citizens, and actress Yuumi Hiro has suggested that one of the charms of Takarazuka is its ability to bridge intergenerational interests. Takarazuka plays are very family-friendly, and focus heavily on pretty and harmless romances. The often simple storylines and gorgeous productions make most of the larger plays easily accessible to non-Japanese speakers, and it’s a very interesting world to explore.