The Takarazuka Touch

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The Takarazuka Touch Author(s): Zeke Berlin Reviewed work(s): Source: Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 35-47 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 26/03/2012 09:50 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] University of Hawai'i Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Asian Theatre Journal.

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Transcript of The Takarazuka Touch

The Takarazuka Touch Author(s): Zeke Berlin Reviewed work(s): Source: Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 35-47 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 26/03/2012 09:50Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]

University of Hawai'i Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Asian Theatre Journal.

The Takarazuka TouchZekeBerlin

The Takarazuka Revue Company (Takarazuka Kageki Dan), which gets its name from the city of Takarazuka, Japan, where the company was founded and is principally headquartered, is located about fifteen miles northwest of Osaka. The performers in this company are all unmarried women who are organized into four troupes of about eightyfive to one hundred women in each. While one of these troupes is performing in the Daigekijo (Grand Theatre) in Takarazuka, another is likely to be performing in their own theatre in Tokyo where they are in residence about six months in each year. A third troupe is rehearsing for an upcoming production and the fourth one, if it is not also rehearsing, is performing in the second, smaller theatre at home, or on tour, or engaged in a special presentation at an exposition, perhaps, or in celebration of the opening of a hotel. The program usually consists of two parts: one of these is a revue containing musical numbers and sketches; the other is a fully plotted musical play. The revue is made up of a collection of songs and dances and perhaps a brief comic scene-all probably dealing with boys and girls on the wild merry-go-round of love. The songs are often very familiareither to Westerners or to those who know Japanese pop tunes. But scattered throughout are new songs written especially for this show. Plays presented at Takarazuka can be categorized in many ways. One way is by classifying them as Japanese pieces (nippon mono)and Western pieces (yomono). Another name for the latter group is "red-haired plays," or akagemono,since, figuratively speaking, all Westerners, toJapaZeke Berlin is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Theatre Arts and Speech Department of Rutgers University, Camden campus. The article is based on the author's forthcoming book on Takarazuka.Asian TheatreJournal, 8, no. 1 (Spring 1991). ? 1991 by University of Hawaii Press. All rights reserved. Vol.



nese, have red or blond hair and blue eyes. With regard to genre, all presentations at Takarazuka can further be categorized as follows: revues (French influence, lavish costumes and sets, and very slight theme, if any); shows (American, somewhat more realistic and contemporary, with a stronger thematic thread; the distinction between revues and shows is often blurred); grand romance (most commonly a romantic love story, frefrom a Western source); ochoroman(a romance set in a Japanese quently historical period); and buyoshi(a Japanese dance performance). Writerdirectors often use other phrases to describe their plays, of course, but almost all can be roughly placed in these groupings. In their search for material for the giant stage of the Daigekijo and the other theatres in which they perform, both large and small, writers adapt classics and legends from almost every area of the world. Sometimes Takarazuka creates original plots, and at times its writer-directors work from other source material-stories from Japanese fiction and oral tradition or Chinese legends and literature. Adaptations from kabuki, no, and kyogenare used, but mostly with westernized music. Frequently the writers work from American and European sources. Gone With the Wind (Kaze to tomoni sarinu) is a good example of the way the Takarazuka company adapts Western literature. The show opens with a series of big musical production numbers including flashing and rolling lights. Life in the South is the subject of these opening songs. Each of the central characters-Rhett Butler, Scarlett O'Hara, Ashley Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton-makes an appearance singing or dancing or

FIGURE Prelude Dawn (Yoake to 28. 1982. A scene from a typical ocho nojokyoku), roman. (Photo: The TakarazukaRevue Company.)



both. All of this happens before the play begins. After a couple of scenes in which the situations and relationships are established, we have another musical number-a dance is being held to raise money for the war effort. Each man must pay to dance with the woman of his choice and Rhett offers an immense sum to dance with Scarlett, setting up his strong attraction to her. She rejects his advances and, in succeeding scenes, we learn of her yearning for Ashley. Another musical scene soon comes up-this time soldiers sing good-bye to their wives and sweethearts as they prepare to leave for war. In a few moments we have another song-this time sung by Belle, whose offer to contribute money for the war effort is rejected by the older women in town. The gist of her song is "I love my country even if I'm a prostitute -all people are equal." Musical numbers do not occur as frequently throughout the rest of the play as they do in the beginning, but music is frequently used to underscore dramatic moments and as bridges between scenes. An interesting aspect of this play is the depiction of blacks as characters. They are predominantly comical, and all the comedy is broad. Mammy-in realistic African-American makeup-has both comic scenes and ones that are sentimental and sympathetic. An example of comedy

FIGURE29. Gone with theWind (Kazeto tomoni sarinu),1977. Rhett Butler pressesthe temples of Scarlett O'Hara. (Photo: The TakarazukaRevue Company.)



can be found in the scene where Rhett is drinking by himself when Mammy enters and tells him he should not drink. He says he has stopped drinking as he pours himself another healthy glassful. Mammy says she will help him stop drinking and pours all that is left in the bottle directly into her throat. Soon they are both very drunk and stagger about the stage as Mammy tells Rhett that she had never really liked him. Now, she admits, she understands him and likes him better-so much better, in fact, that today she is wearing a gift he gave her some time ago. She then picks up her floor-length skirt, revealing a tiered and frilly bright red underskirt. Another interesting aspect of the play is the presence of two Scarletts-one of whom is the alter ego. They have several arguments about whether to love Rhett Butler or Ashley Wilkes. Despite some unusual touches the story follows the Margaret Mitchell novel quite closely. The musical ends with Rhett Butler finally walking out on Scarlett who now confesses her love for him. As he walks out the door, the stage revolves and we see him outside the house. He sings, "Sayonara, Scarlett. Everything is over and I must leave." He exits and a large chorus comes on to sing, "Tomorrow is another day." The Takarazuka Revue Company was founded in 1914 by a new railroad line which had commenced operations just three years earlier. Takarazuka, one of the terminal points of the line, had at one time been a spa town, but by the beginning of this century the spa had fallen into disuse. Thus the theatrical company was established as an attempt to increase ridership on the trains. Kobayashi Ichizo, the railroad entrepreneur, had a friend who used a chorus of boys to attract customers to his dry goods store. Perhaps, reasoned Kobayashi, something like this would work for his railroad enterprise. So he assembled a chorus of twenty young girls-ranging in age from twelve to fifteen-and set about organizing a training program for them. Kobayashi and the faculty agreed that eventually this company should present operas. (European opera was relatively unknown in Japan at this time and quickly dismissed by the few Japanese who had seen it.) They called their company the Takarazuka Girls Opera Company (Takarazuka Sh6jo Kageki Dan) and, instead of having only a singing and instrumental chorus, decided to present fairy tales in operetta form. This strategy proved very popular and their reputation spread quickly. Within a few years they were performing in Tokyo and in several other cities on their way home from the capital. Ten years after its founding, Kobayashi built an immense theatre seating three thousand. Three years later the French revue was introduced into Japan by Takarazuka, and this established the path the company would follow. A little later the word "girls" (shojo) was dropped from the company name, and the management toyed with the idea of adding men to the



company. They decided against it, however, as they would do again and again throughout its history. The age of the entrants into the company was altered several times until today it is limited to those between fifteen and eighteen. Those who are admitted to the company begin their careers with two years of study in the Takarazuka Music School (Takarazuka Ongaku Gakko). Here they receive intensive training in the performing arts-principally musicaldancing, singing, playing an instrument. On graduation the students automatically are accepted into the company where they are soon divided into those who will play the male roles-they must be at least five foot four-and those playing the female roles. The performers who take on the male roles, the otokoyaku,are remarkable. They are the most popular performers in the company and usually have the longest careers. These male impersonators walk about on stage with a convincing swagger and strut that are marvelous to behold. will appear in another part of the program as a Occasionally, an otokoyaku female. The effect is startling but confirms the effectiveness of her masculine portrayal. The men they portray are highly idealized-the kind of men young women fantasize about: beautiful but strong, graceful but tough, loving but virile. Performers say they seek to capture the essence of a man rather than the reality of his behavior. Tradition being what it is in Japan, many of the concepts that were established in starting the company still hold today. Since the company began as a training program for young girls, they are still referred to as students no matter how old they may be or how experienced and talented. And since this was to be a place for innocent young girls, any member of the troupe who wishes to marry must retire from the company. Performers do not resign; they are said to graduate. Some leave the company for marriage or to open a small business. A goodly number have careers in theatre, television, and film. Indeed, any professional production playing in Japan is likely to have in its cast a former "Takarasienne," as these performers are sometimes called. And if it is a musical production, the likelihood is even greater. A few members of the company stay in the troupe for a very extended period-well beyond the usual age for marriage or until the prescribed retirement age. In 1985 there were twentyone Takarazuka "students" with more than twenty years of service, and seven of them had been performing for more than forty years. Most of these veterans were still very active. Another remarkable aspect of Takarazuka is the makeup of the audience. It is overwhelmingly female and predominantly under twentyfive years of age. The predominance of women in the audience has always been the case, but before World War II the company had a strong attraction for many male high school and college students. In Japan today,



many men do not get home from work and related social obligations until late in the evening and thus form a relatively small part of audiences at any kind of performance, be it classical, contemporary, or popular theatre. The fans of Takarazuka are particularly notable. They are famous for their devotion, especially toward the otokoyaku,the male role players. The fervor shown by Japanese fans of all the popular arts is extraordinary, but Takarazuka fans are particularly noted for their heightened ardor. Before and after each performance there is always a sizable crowd of fans at the stage door waiting for the most popular players. These waits are usually long. Gift giving is striking evidence of the intense affection the fans have for the Takarazuka performers. Going well beyond cookies and chocolates, the fans often give clothing (sometimes personally made) and costume jewelry. There are even unconfirmed but plausible stories of expensive jewelry and stereos being proffered. Many young fans proclaim proudly that they have saved all the earnings from their first job to buy their favorite performer something special. The earliest Takarazuka play based on a Western source was offered while they were still doing fairy-tale operettas. Androclesand the Lion (Androcles shishi), presented in the company's third year, was probato bly based on Aesop's fable rather than Shaw's play. In the next few years they presented operettas about Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Columbus and an adaptation of a one-act play by Anatole France. Also, in their early years, they produced musicals about Hansel and Gretel (Hansel to Gretel),Cain and Abel (Cain no satsujin, The MurderousCain), Santa Claus, and Jack and the beanstalk (Jack to mameno ki). They began the move into more mature material in the mid and late 1920s, about the same time that they discovered the French revue. Carmenwas adapted from Merimee's novel, Greek mythology was the source for Electra, an adaptation was made of Verdi's La Traviata, and they presented a play called The Death of Ophelia(Ophelia no shi), possibly based on Hamlet. Shakespeare, over the years, has been a particular favorite at Takarazuka. In addition to The Death of Ophelia, they have adapted Hamlet on two other occasions, Twelfth Night (Koi no bokenshatachi, Adventurers in and Cleopatratwice (the first was Cleopatra,the second Love) once, Antony was entitled Shinkunaruumi ni inori o, Prayer to the Crimson ColoredSea), RomeoandJuliet (Romeo toJuliet) three times, and the most popular one, A MidsummerNight's Dream(Manatsu noyo noyume), has been adapted for presentation four times. The founder originally envisioned that his company would eventually become a Japanese variation of the Western opera repertory company, but this never came to pass. On many occasions, however, adaptations and variations of operas have been presented. Carmen has been



FIGURE30. Carmen, 1949. This photo is from the third of four different productions. (Photo: The TakarazukaRevue Company.)

offered four times, each time in a different version. Some of the other operas in Takarazuka reworkings have been The Barberof Seville(Sevilla no rihatsushi), Turandot(Turandothime, Princess Turandot), The Daughter of the Regiment(Rentai no musume),and, of course, MadameButterfly (Chocho-san). Puccini's opera has a special niche in Takarazuka's history. In 1954 the company entered into a very unusual and potentially challenging agreement. Takarazuka supplied seventeen performers and technical help for the making of a film of Madama Butterfly(Chocho fujin), an otherwise all-Italian production. The film, however, say two film historians, "turned out to be an inept and garish pantomime accompaniment to arelatively inferior and much-cut and landscape gardening. performance of the opera. . . . The Japmystified and

anese were confused by Italian ideas on Japanese behavior, architecture,. . . [They were] particularly

somewhat upset by [Chocho's ability] to speak Italian" (Anderson and Richie 1960, 247). Its only success was its curiosity value among the Japanese public. Takarazuka had a more successful film experience about the same when the company was invited to appear in a Cinerama movie entime, titled Seven Wonders the World. They refused, however, to cooperate in of the shooting of another film in 1957. James Michener had written a popular novel entitled Sayonarain which an American soldier has an affair with



FIGURE 31. Turandot, 1952. This was freely adapted from the opera by Puccini. (Photo: The TakarazukaRevue Company.)

a Takarazuka star. Joshua Logan directed the film, starring Marlon Brando, but the company wanted no part of it. In his autobiography Logan wrote, "They would not allow us to photograph any member of the company, the exterior of the theatre, nothing." He went on to say that Takarazuka found the picture too "sexually explicit" (Logan 1978, 95). A new venture for Takarazuka took place in 1967 with the production of their first American musical, Oklahoma! This was not an adaptation but a direct translation. It was so well received that another American musical, West Side Story (West Side monogatari),was contemplated for the following year. There were many doubts and misgivings, however, about this choice. This story of street gangs with a violent view of life represented a considerable departure from the romantic and idealized stories the troupe usually offered. Despite the resistance from many within and without the company, the show was produced and Takarazuka had another popular hit. Carousel(Kaiten mokubu)was presented the year after that, and it too was successful. Since then Takarazuka has presented Brigadoon, The Apple Tree, SouthPacific (Minami taiheiy), Guysand Dolls, and a second offering of Oklahoma! In 1987 they presented Me and My Girl, the British musical. It was produced by Takarazuka while it was still playing in New York. About 25 to 30 percent of Takarazuka's shows are based on Western sources. Most of these musicals come from the world of literature;

FIGURE 32. Guys and Dolls, 1984. One of the several Broadway musicals

presented in the Grand Theatre. (Photo: The Takarazuka Revue Company.)

FIGURE 33. Me and My Girl, 1987. Produced by Takarazuka while the original was still running on Broadway. (Photo: The Takarazuka Revue Company.)



novels from Europe and America are frequently used as the springboard for productions. Don Quixotede la Mancha (Don Quixote),La Dame aux Camelias (Tsubaki hime, Princess Camellia), The ScarletPimpernel(Beni hakobe, The CrimsonChickweed), The Count of Monte Cristo(Monte Cristo hakushaku),and Little Women(Wakagusa monogatari, The Tale of TenderGrass) have all been given that special Takarazuka treatment-the Alcott novel twice. Some others have been The ThreeMusketeers (Sanjushi), A Tale of Two Cities (Nito Showboat(Mississippi Romance), and Wuthering Heights (Arashiga monogatari), oka). These stories are highly romantic, with lots of love and enchanting backgrounds. Other novels that Takarazuka has adapted are Hugo's Les Miserables(Jean Valjean), Stendahl's The Red and the Black (once as Aka to kuro and a second adaptation entitled Koikoso waga inochi, Love Is the True Reasonfor My Life), Tolstoy's Resurrection (Katyusha monogatari,Katyusha's and Dumas pere's The Black Tulip (Kuroi tulip). Tale), While Gone With the Wind was one of the biggest hits in the history of Takarazuka, another American novel adapted into a musical was Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (Taga tame ni kane wa naru). It was popular with Takarazuka audiences as well. Let us pick up this familiar story after Robert Jordan has decided to join the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War and goes into training. There is a dance representing hand-to-hand combat, another dance with knives, and a third one with rifles-the latter is the most athletic of the three. The next scene is in a New York night club and begins with a floor show. Soon Jordan enters and, after dancing briefly with a woman, he is approached by two men in military uniform who tell him his first assignment: he must leave immediately for Spain where he is to blow up a bridge. During a blackout, the scene changes to a hideout in the mountains of Spain. Several men sing and dance while rifles are being distributed. Three or four women are present and they too are armed. One has a sub-machine gun, and she begins to sing of the need to endure until the war is won. In a moment, she is joined in song by the other women and then by the men. When the song finishes, Jordan arrives wearing a backpack and introduces himself to the others. Maria, whose hair is closely cropped, comes out of a cave. She has been living with this group for three months since they rescued her from the enemy. Quickly we can tell that Maria and Jordan are attracted to each other. Several scenes later, Maria and Jordan have declared their love for each other, and we see them on a beautiful mountainside. Maria tells Jordan of her life before the war. As she talks, she dances, and the lights fade on everything except the two characters. In a moment, the lights come up and we are in a pretty little town with hosts of people singing and dancing. Maria appears with long hair and joins the singing. Suddenly soldiers enter, bark orders, and kill some of the people-including Maria's parents. Maria is dragged off to have her head shaved.



FIGURE34. For WhomtheBell Tolls(Taga tamenikanewa naru), 1978. RobertJordan

comforts Maria as the encampment girds itself for an attack. (Photo: The TakarazukaRevue Company.) The lights fade out, but they come back on almost immediately illuminating the mountainside where we last saw Jordan and Maria talking. Now they are in a long kiss. We hear Jordan's voice expressing his love for Maria and his concern that he must go off on his dangerous assignment where he may be killed. When Jordan leaves, Maria sings of her longing to take care of him-wash his socks, make his coffee, roll his cigarettes. When the song finishes, the scene returns to the mountain camp. The band is discussing the need to move to a new location after the bridge is destroyed. The subject changes to their lives before the war, and we have another flashback scene with flamenco dancing and singing. Afterwards, at the mountain camp, it is revealed that a drunken member of the band is making demands on Maria and speaking ill of Jordan. Jordan sings that we all have problems, but despite them we must persist in our tasks. Just as he finishes this song, there is gunfire offstage. Enemy soldiers have come across another band of Republicans encamped nearby. Intermingled with the not-too-distant gunfire is dancing and singing onstage expressing anxiety and fear. Suddenly there is silence and no movement as the shooting ceases. A member of the nearby group comes running in to announce that only she has survived the attack. Everyone prays as the curtain falls on Act One. From this description of the staging of a segment of this wellknown story, we can gain some notion of how Takarazuka adapts material



for its audiences. There is much singing and dancing and many set changes. Romanticism is the heartbeat of Takarazuka: the heroics are considerable; the obstacles seem insurmountable. Love is sought after, struggled for, and seldom serenely achieved. The women are exquisitely beautiful; the men are dashingly handsome and tough. But the toughness is always tempered by tenderness. Although all the performers are women and the audience is overwhelmingly female, the management and artistic direction are carried out almost exclusively by men. Occasionally a play will be written or directed by a woman, but this is very much the exception. All staff directors, who are almost always the playwrights or adapters, as well, are men. Dances are staged by women with a little more frequency, but even so all the staff choreographers are male. The plays produced and the style of their presentation have a strong appeal for their predominantly female audience. As in most dramatic literature written by men, males in Takarazuka plays are usually the central characters. The male artistic leadership of the company may account for this tendency, but the powerful appeal of the otokoyaku is also a major factor. Rarely do the plays deal with feminist themes, but by Western standards feminism has not been a popular issue in Japan. The popularity of Takarazuka is considerable and frequently their performances are completely sold out. Before and immediately after World War II, there were competing companies with equally strong followings, such as the Shochiku International Troupe (Shochiku Kokusai Dan), or SKD, and the Osaka Women's Opera (Osaka Shojo Kageki), or OSK, but in the postwar years only Takarazuka has continued to be highly successful. Today, of the companies that patterned themselves after Takarazuka, only SKD and OSK are still in operation, and both are on reduced performance schedules. Takarazuka troupes have toured the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Holland, Sweden, Canada, Latin America, and Asia. The most frequently visited locale is Hawaii, where Takarazuka has performed on five occasions. In all of their travels, however, they do not bring with them the plays they have created from Western sources-away from Japan they only present material in the revue format. Although Takarazuka is reluctant to perform these musical plays abroad, their strongest appeal at home continues largely to be the romantic, improbable world they create from Western material. Takarazuka is an exceptional theatre with a distinct style and atmosphere which appeal to a large segment of Japanese society. The scale of Takarazuka productions is immense, yet there is an intimacy in its special universe and an alluring innocence pervades the performances. Just as the plays themselves often deal with a dreamy, unreal, faraway



world of love and glitter, so too the performers emit a sense of purity and beauty and idealism. The plots, though frequently complex, are easy to follow, and the locales and eras of these stories are wide-ranging, exotic, and exquisite in their unfamiliarity. Life in these worlds is lushly romantic and spellbindingly glamorous. In a world that frowns on public displays of affection, Takarazuka satisfies the natural yearning for romance. Here is a place where one can dream. REFERENCES Anderson, Joseph I., and Donald Richie. 1960. The Film:ArtandIndustry. New York:Grove Press. Japanese Logan, Joshua. 1978. MovieStars,RealPeople, Me. New York:Delacorte. and