Takarazuka Review - A Critique 宝塚評

I remember watching a documentary about Takarazuka Review in high school Japanese class, and thinking I must see this! Unlike more traditional forms of Japanese theatre such as kabuki and noh in which men perform male and female roles, Takarazuka is an all-female group. It is notoriously difficult to get into, you must be good at singing, dancing and acting to enter the school, where students study for two years before being allowed to perform on stage. I taught a student a few years ago who dreamed of getting into the school. She had been taking ballet and singing lessons since she was a child, and had the straightest posture I had ever seen for a 15 year old girl, but had failed the auditions twice already. Hearing her talk about her dream, and also seeing several former Takarazuka stars on variety TV made me even more curious to see the show.

I never imagined that Takarazuka would play in Miyazaki. Hardly any shows or concerts come here; we don’t even have the bullet train. Usually, we have to go to Fukuoka, which is about 4 hours away by bus, to see the most popular ones. Then one day my friend sent me a message saying that the all-Japan tour would be stopping in Miyazaki, and would I be interested in seeing the show. Yes please, I replied enthusiastically. I guess Miyazaki is on the map after all!

Obviously, I had really high expectations for the show. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. The dancing, the costumes, the singing, were all fantastic. I didn’t know a person could wear that much glitter, or feathers for that matter. I was dazzled and wooed from start to finish, even if I couldn’t understand all of the Japanese that was spoken. However, at the end of the evening I was left with some niggling criticism.

First, I didn’t feel like it particularly empowered women. Before the show I was under the impression that Takarazuka would be somewhat of a flagship for Japanese feminism. Instead, I found the entire show to be based on the familiar patriarchy that is still present in real world Japan. The lead character was male, and the story was very damsel in distress. I don’t consider myself to be a very active feminist, but one thought that I had after the show is that given all the effort they make to create a fictional world, and since they are an all-female group, would it not be the perfect opportunity to embrace female-centered storylines and non-traditional hierarchies? I for one am dying to see a powerful Japanese woman who is not playing a male role steal the show.

Second, it was more Japanese pop-culture centered than I would have liked. This is just a personal preference, but when I go to the theatre, I would like some depth. I want to get caught up in a story, fall in love with a character, and be completely carried away to another world. Perhaps I have been spoiled in the past, having seen West Side Story on Broadway and Wicked back home in Brisbane, but Takarazuka seemed to be a little more shallow to me. There were some points throughout the show when I felt I was at a J-pop concert watching AKB48 perform on the stage. Ok, that’s a bit harsh, the dancing was far superior to AKB, but the story was definitely your characteristic J-drama; I can summarize it in a sentence. The main character is caught in a love triangle, but little does he know that his true love is actually his half-sister. Wow, didn’t see that one coming at all, not! This is the basic plot line for over half of all Japanese dramas. I would have liked something just a little bit less stereotypical.

Honestly though, even with these two critiques, I would still probably go to see Takarazuka again. Why? Well, I would love to see the troop perform on their home stage in Takarazuka in Hyogo Prefecture. I am sure the atmosphere would be much more spectacular than that of the tiny bunka hall in Miyazaki. Also, I would love to see a different story, so that I can have a wider perspective of the world of Takarazuka. I live in hope that all of their stories aren’t centered on overdone plots. One of the pamphlets that I picked up at the show advertised Rurouni Kenshin which is playing in the Tokyo theatre next year. Rurouni Kenshin is one of my favourite Japanese movies, and I would love to see what they do with it on the stage. Tokyo trip anyone?



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