Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Just last weekend I went with my wife and my sister and mother to the Takarazuka theatre to watch this silly musical. Most Takarazuka musicals are silly, which I mean in the nicest possible way, silly fluffy romances with convoluted stories of long-lost siblings and mistaken identities. This one has five Irish orphans who grew up together then emigrated to the US, where one of them ended up as a hit-man paid to bump off one of the other ones, but they all end up living happily ever after, except for the leading lady (well, the leading lady who actually plays a lady) who dies of leukemia whilst everyone, including a gang of pixies who must have stowed away on the boat, dances a happy number around her corpse, or something like that.
However, the most striking thing about Takarazuka is the energy on stage. This time we were lucky enough to get a central fourth-row seat so could see all the stars up close and personal as they strutted their stuff. This play, since the story started off in Ireland, had an opening Riverdance number (in fact, they flew in one of the first people to Riverdance as a choreograph for the show) with a line of around about 50 people fair giving it laldie, although the lack of a specialised tap floor softened the tap shoes sound a little. I've not seen the original, but my wife and mother have, and said that this far surpassed the "real" thing in terms of scale and energy!
Up until then I used to think that all the female fans were more than a little bonkers in their rabid support of the theatre and the stars, but having seen them up close and personal I begin to understand a little, even though I cannot forget that they are just women dressed up as men, but not really very manly, nor even effeminate, men, almost androgynous. Perhaps that is the secret behind the charm - the character of the part, and the costumes and make-up highlights shine through, making the audience forget the fact that it's just a girl in a suit and a tight hairdo. A book by Jennifer Robertson, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan wrote what to me was quite frankly a lot of nonsense (I have inside info!), twisting the stage to fit her own preconceptions of gender identification. A fair number of the troupe members are gay (interesting question: is there any correlation between playing a man's part and sexual identity amongst the members?), but to project this private sexuality onto the public roles is going too far. Why are there virtually no male fans for the female leads, even though some of them are very delicately beautiful, and one of the most prized wife material in Japan. (That would be a good survey for Seron to translate if I could find one, the most prestigious wife material. Stewardess - sorry, Cabin Attendant - is right near the top, for some reason, so I have heard)
I have a campaign to persuade just one person to go to Takarazuka, but so far I've failed miserably. Even the most expensive seats (if you can get them) are excellent value for money, 10,000 yen for a three hour show, with usually the first half a play, the second half a song-and-dance review.