TAKARAZUKA, Hyogo Pref. (Kyodo) Takarazuka Revue Company’s all-woman troupe recently staged a revival of “The Rose of Versailles,” a musical set in the French Revolution that was a smash when it first came to the stage in 1974.
The musical is based on a narrative comic by Riyoko Ikeda, 58. Since its initial stage run, it has become a hit, drawing about 4 million viewers.
Tickets for the revival, which started in late February — its first run in five years — quickly sold out.
Although set in revolutionary France, the story is a timeless tale of the hopes and desires of women in different circumstances.
“The Rose of Versailles” is made up of two tales unfolding against the backdrop of the French Revolution (1789-1794) — an illicit love affair between Marie Antoinette and Fersen, a Swedish count; and a romance between Oscar, a beautiful, aristocratic woman who has been raised and dressed as a man, and her childhood friend and bodyguard, Andre.
A pivot of the story is how Oscar, who heads the palace guard of Marie Antoinette, decides to betray her and dedicate herself to helping the peasants carry out their revolution.
Her face flushed with emotion after watching the performance, a 39-year-old woman who works at the Tokyo office of a foreign media firm said she was moved by the character of Oscar.
The woman said this was the second time she had seen “The Rose of Versailles.” She was only in second grade when she first saw the musical and Oscar made little impression on her then, but she was riveted by the character this time around.
“(Oscar is) an ordinary woman who is in a quandary over love. Concealing everything about her behind the cover of the military uniform, she (devoted) her life to her ideal,” the woman said. “I felt like telling her not to go that far.”
The Takarazuka fan is speaking from experience. She quit her former job in the Kansai region several years ago because her job was limited to doing business in small towns, and she felt suffocated by the company’s male-dominated culture.
While working at the company, she said she felt oppressed by coworkers wondering if you would ever marry and saying she behaved a certain way because she is a woman.
The woman said her taste in men has changed as well. She used to long for an ambitious man, similar to the character of Fersen, but now she wants a man who has a generous heart and supports her — like Andre.
The sensation the musical caused when it was first staged in the 1970s took place during an era when many baby boomers got married.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research said many couples tied the knot in arranged marriages until the early 1960s.
But by the first half of the 1970s, love matches were more common, accounting for 61.5 percent of all marriages, with 33.1 percent the traditional arranged variety.
Writer Kaoru Tamaoka, 49, said she was captivated by Oscar because she questioned the lifestyle of her sister, 7 years her elder, who is a baby boomer and supported her husband as a homemaker.
Tamaoka recalled that her sister used to tell her that she supported Japan’s economic growth by maintaining a home — a path Tamaoka sees as the opposite to the one Oscar took.
The reactions of the two women to the play are ones the author, no doubt, would understand.
Ikeda first published “The Rose of Versailles” as a comic book series in 1972 to present an image of a woman who lived as she wanted.
“I received half the amount of money paid to male cartoonists and published in the same magazine,” she said.
When she asked the publisher the reason for the gap in pay, she was told that it was nothing unusual.
“Once a woman gets married,” she quoted the male publisher as saying, “she is supported by a man. It’s natural for a man to get twice as much,” Ikeda recalled.
The continuing popularity of the musical inspired by Ikeda’s story is perhaps a reflection of the frustration some women feel because they cannot live the lives they want.
Hikaru Asami, a star in the revue’s Yuki (Snow) group who portrays Oscar in the musical, said she feels empathy for Oscar, quoting a line from the story in which Oscar commits herself to the revolution, declaring: “Even women have the right to live and state their views.”
Every time Oscar says those lines, “I feel I say them as a representative of women,” Asami said.