Takarazuka hits discordant note

I read Mark Buckton’s April 14 Timeout feature article, “Takarazuka: Japan’s newest ‘traditional’ theater turns 100,” and thought, “Maybe I need to get out more.”

The Takarazuka Revue looks like the epitome of Japanese kitsch and gaudiness to me. In other words, pretty ugly. Japanese do kitsch and gaudy really well, in stark contrast to what we are taught are their traditional aesthetics and values — like the tight choreography of the tea ceremony or the nihonbuyo style of traditional Japanese dance performed by geisha.

Maybe the lesson is that kitschy, campy and gaudy displays reside in the heart of Japanese aesthetics after all — certainly at the heart of popular entertainment, anyway, as any evening spent in front of the telly here will convince.

I know it is highly acclaimed and revered by devoted fans in Japan. But what I come away with after seeing images of the Takarazuka Revue — especially images of the otokoyaku (male-role actresses) — is an impression of transvestism and bad taste. Transvestism mostly.

Takarazuka shows resemble a Gay Pride Parade in Sydney, which is fine if that’s what’s intended. But I don’t think it is.

Kabuki is very traditional and it, too, involves a lot of cross-dressing. And several high-profile gay and transgender entertainers appear on television regularly as tarento (talents) — more to feed a repressed cultural fetish than anything else, I imagine.

But the point is that there appears to be a definite sexual string running through Japanese culture that is played for its discordant effect. Maybe it’s an expression of wabi-sabi: designed asymmetry and asperity meant to remind us of the transience of our artificial social and cultural premises.

I know the young ladies in the Takarazuka Revue school work very hard. It’s just a shame that what they do isn’t … something else.

Maybe I really do need to get out more.

grant piper
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • zer0_0zor0

    I think that you need to view Takarazuka in contradistinction to Kabuki.

    Kabuki was originally more dance and adult entertainment oriented than the educational historical plays that were adapted to the genre subsequently. The dancers were supposedly also engaging in prostitution, and the scenario became untenable, for whatever circumstances. The authorities enacted rules that permitted only men to act in Kabuki, so even the female roles are acted by men.

    The Takarazua review is the inverse of that, and I gather that the themes address aspects of male behavior in society, with the male roles being portrayed by women.

    It’s not my cup of tea, either, but I don’t think it exists because of some perverse streak in the Japanese. It appears to be a relatively modern genre that evolved against the background of the history and tradition of the Kabuki, affording women an opportunity to act in a somewhat parallel form of theater and opening up another dimension of social criticism to art, one that incorporates a good deal relating to the roles of the sexes.