Takarazuka: Chicago at Lincoln Center

July 23rd, 2016

Chicago.We’re finishing up Takarazuka Week here on Okazu with the reason we started in the first place – the iconic all-female revue troupe is performing Kander and Ebb’s Chicago at Lincoln Center in New York City. There are still three shows, two today and one tomorrow and if you are near, in or can get to New York City, absolutely, definitely go see this show.

It was fantastic.

Not kitschy funny. Fantastic. The performers were stellar.

Because the group performing are all retired, (an OG group) they have a rotating cast. We saw Saki Asaji as Billy Flynn, Natsuki Mizu as Velma Kelly, Yuga Yamato as Roxie Hart, and Jun Hatsukaze as Mama Morton.

Natsuki Mizu, holy crap was she good.

I have had a theory for years, that the dancers of Takarazuka are all exceptionally talented, but that their choreographers are just not very good. Its not that they are bad, per se, but watching them dance, using the same repertoire of moves over and over, I feel like I’m watching dancing routines created by a really talented high school student. My theory was wholly confirmed last night as the ladies of Takarazuka absolutely KILLED Bob Fosse’s choreography. And if you know anything about Fosse’s work, you know he demands a high level of physicality and sensuality from the dancers.

The New York Times article on the show had this to say:

Gary Chryst, a Broadway veteran who supervises dance for the licensed foreign shows of “Chicago,” spent a month drilling the cast before its run, which also includes several weeks of performances in Japan. Even for male roles, the “feminine” and “feline” choreography in Bob Fosse’s original staging works in Takarazuka’s favor, he said. Bringing out the musical’s cynical tone was harder. Takarazuka’s performers aren’t accustomed to playing women who blatantly “use sex to get what they want,” he said.

Takarazuka has been providing an idealized image of silver screen Hollywood in the 1920s for 100 years to audiences.  How, I wondered, would they do showing reprehensible people doing terrible things with no regret? This a story of greed and corruption and manipulation.

They did great. ^_^

After Chicago completed, to our delight, they did a retrospective revue portion, with songs and costumes that really gave you a sense of the Takarazuka’s history, with a 50s style mambo, to “Roxanne” sung by a singer in a stunning pimpin’ purple outfit, to “That’s Life” Las Vegas style and finishing up with a classic rendition of “Sumire no Hana no Sakukoro.”

But…we were going to get what we were all waiting for? YES! All three of the leads took their final bow in shiny tuxedo and feathers. The audience was obviously ready and waiting for this, because the roar was deafening.

The other thing I really wanted to pay attention to was the audience. Who was coming? What were they looking for?

What I found was a nice slice of New York life, with a lot of younger people in the audience (a lot of beautiful young people. Sheesh, New York, how do you do that?) The man sitting behind us had seen Takarazuka in the 1960s in Japan, and loved them. And for once, when I wanted desperately to jump to my feet and scream with applause, I could! That’s always so trying watching a show in Japan. They never scream wildly. But last night the audience roared with approval. It was great.

Before I wrap up here, I want to point you to a couple of amazing articles on the Lincoln Center website that you should totally read:

Portrait of a Superfan: Takarazuka Revue
Interview by Madeline Rogers

10 Things to Know about the Takarazuka Revue by Ryan Wenzel

Takarazuka: A History by Jennifer Robertson

I’ve never seen Lincoln Center put out the welcome mat in such a huge way, and New York has really jumped up with open arms and embraced Takarazuka. I hope we’ll be able to see many more shows here.

Ratings:

Everything – 10

Seriously, if you can get there today or tomorrow, get there! There are still tickets available and it is an experience of a lifetime.

I want to thanks Bruce, Donna, Serge, (the original group that saw Elizabeth with me!) Rica, Sumika, James and my wife for joining me in this fantastic adventure.

I think I’ll change my motto here on Okazu, “Come for the low culture, stay for the high culture!”



Interview with Anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Robertson

July 21st, 2016

jrfrontWelcome back to Takarazuka Week here on Okazu! Tonight is the premier of the Takarazuka performance of Chicago at Lincoln Center. (And I have never, in my life, seen Lincoln Center push a show as hard as they are this one.) I’m already receiving reports that the show is delightful.

To celebrate and get in the mood before seeing this show tomorrow night we have a very special interview today. If you are at all familiar with Takarazuka, you know of Dr. Jennifer Robertson‘s book, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan.  It’s my great pleasure today to have Jennifer here to talk about Takarazuka. Please welcome her warmly. ^_^

 

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1. What brought your attention to Takarazuka in the first place?
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As I share in my book, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (2001 [1998]), I grew up in Japan, where I’ve lived for over 20+ years. During that time, someone gave us a Takarazuka LP that was added to my family’s record collection. But although that early exposure doubtless played some subliminal role in my later interest in the Revue, it wasn’t until 1976 (in Japan) that I began to notice Takarazuka actors on various television shows. The otokoyaku (man-role players) stood out as they were so much taller than the average Japanese woman (and many men) and exuded a charisma and confidence that was rare among women in Japan. I saw my first Revue performance at the Tokyo Takarazuka theatre in April 1985—The Golden Wings starring Asami Rei as the lead otokoyaku. In my opinion, she and Mine Saori, who is starring in the Revue’s Lincoln Center performance of Chicago, are two of the most talented and magnetic otokoyaku. (I know that dates me, but in the few shows and a dozen or so DVDs I’ve seen since publishing my book, I still think that Asami and Mine stand out!) Since retiring from the Revue, Asami has gone on to a successful career in theatre (as have many Takarazuka actors), and Mine is part of the new veteran-actors troupe organized by the Revue’s administration. Interestingly, the musumeyaku (woman- role player, lit. “daughter-role player, as the “woman” should be an innocent naïf), in The Golden Wings was Ichirō Maki, “officially” an otokoyaku. The Revue often assigns an otokoyaku to perform the role of women who (like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, another Revue standard) are far from naive and know a thing or two about sex! It was at that 1985 performance that I experienced the frisson of eroticized energy exuded by the Revue actors and observed the way in which the mostly female audience was transported by it to another world. More than the action on stage, however sizzling, I decided to study the Revue because of the intimate and familiar relationship I witnessed that evening between the fans and the actors.

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2. In your opinion, has there been any visible change in the way otokoyaku and musumeyaku roles are performed, or in the “gendering” of Takarazuka roles? Tomu Ran in Gyakuten Saiban ~ Yomigaeru Shinjitsu, for instance, was much less strutting and “drag king”-y and in fact, for the first time read as “a guy” to me. Have you noted any changes?
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I haven’t seen enough many live shows since 1998, and have watched only a dozen or so DVDs, also TV broadcasts, to make an informed comparison, but the fact is that Revue actors have long experimented with different styles or methods of performing the man-role. I’ve written about the Revue’s experiments with “androgyny”—i.e., creating a more “gender neutral” (chūseiteki) type of otokoyaku since the late 1960s (related in part to having otokoyaku perform the roles of charismatic and carnally experienced women). Each otokoyaku is encouraged to develop her own style of masculine performance, and invariably that includes learning from actual male actors (regardless of ethnicity, nationality, etc.) whom they admire in some capacity. Most otokoyaku will blend, tweak, and refine the characteristics of several male actors or male celebrities. Regarding your observations about Tomu Ran, it would be interesting to find out about her mix of influences. As for musumeyaku, since their femininity must highlight in contrast the masculinity of the otokoyaku, especially in the case of “golden couples” (goruden kombi, i.e., the leading man and woman of a troupe), they need to take their lead from the otokoyaku regardless, to some extent, their own sources of stylistic influence.

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3. What, if any, changes have you seen in Takarazuka fandom?
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I think it’s important to remember that in the early 20th century, Takarazuka was billed as wholesome family entertainment and attracted mixed (female and male) audiences. Only since the postwar period, and in the context of increasing (and competing) forms of theatrical and mass media entertainment, has the Revue’s audience and fan-base reflected a narrower demographic profile. That said, the stereotype of fans as “young girls” is erroneous, and continues to circulate because, in my view, many (especially male) critics cannot figure out how to explain the infatuation of mature (and/or married) women with the Takarazuka actors, and especially with the otokoyaku! The majority of fans for the past thirty years if not more have been women in their 30s and older, many of whom are married. I would be curious to learn whether, and what percentage (if such a statistic can be generated) of, unmarried women—and today a large number of women are delaying or even postponing marriage—are Takarazuka fans. I will bet though, that the huge number of ‘Zuka fans from Japan who will descend on NYC over the next week are likely in their 30s and older, and probably either employed or retired!

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I agree entirely with that and won’t take that bet. My experience with Takarazuka has been mostly adult, often middle-aged women filling the audience. Although recently I’ve seen younger (20s-30s, fans.

4. What do you think of of overseas fandom? Is it different or the same? Looking for that same something as Japanese fans, or completely different things?

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I have not researched overseas fandom, which for an enterprising social scientist, would be a great topic. One could probably explore Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and Korean fan blogs/websites, but I haven’t done that in any systematic way. I know that the Revue has a large East Asian following (in addition to Japanese tourists/fans living abroad); the Cosmos Troupe (Sora-gumi) debuted in Hong Kong in January 1998! I would imagine that many of the things that Japanese fans find enticing about the Revue would be true of other East Asian fans—especially perhaps those who are jaded about corporate glass ceilings and patriarchal social structures. I mention this because in my research, I found that many fans are attracted to the otokoyaku not simply for erotic reasons but because she is a female who is capable of negotiating and succeeding on stage in activities often foreclosed to females offstage in society. How they parlay that appreciation in their everyday lives to “make a difference” is much harder to assess. That said, one of the ways in which the Revue has influenced the social life of females off stage (in Japan at least, and perhaps elsewhere) is by stimulating a butch-fem subculture (like host clubs, fan clubs) and attendant communities.

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5. You’ve been studying Takarazuka for quite a while. What are your thoughts around it’s longevity? Have there been any changes in the way Japan relates to it?

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I don’t know about how “Japan relates” to the Revue, but the state has
certainly incorporated Takarazuka into its soft power policies in Asia and
elsewhere. It’s important to remember that the Revue is owned by the megamultinational Hankyu Corporation; Hankyu sold the Braves, its baseball team, in 1988 but kept the Revue as a major moneymaker. The Revue has an affluent niche audience, and the management has responded by creating a large number of commodities that generate lucrative sales. When I first started my Takarazuka research, the Revue did not sell videos of performances—one had to copy them from the occasional TV broadcast. Nor did they promote individual actors, which, at the time, conflicted with their more communal approach to advertising the Revue. But that was then, and today the neo-liberal capitalist impulse has worked to create multiple markets out of one! The “bromide” shop in the basement of the Tokyo Takarazuka theatre run by older fans, and others like it, have been displaced by the juggernaut Hankyu Corporation’s monopolization of Revue books, DVDs, photographs, T-shirts, confections, and the usual array of museum shop paraphernalia. There are still many independent fan clubs along with the official ones, and membership in them is practically the only way to get tickets. But in addition to the money that the Revue brings to Hankyu, the Revue also continues to spin escapist dream stories set in exotic locales for audiences who need a break
from life and work as usual, and who want to take a little piece of that home with them. A win-win combination!

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Indeed it is! Now Takarazuka Revue tickets are, at least apparently, available online, I imagine I’ll never get a seat at one again. ^_^

What do you think of Takarazuka City offering same-sex marriage certificates? Do you think it has any relationship to the (to me, obvious) lesbian fandom of Takarazuka Revue?

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I think that the same-sex marriage certificates offered by Takarazuka City in
2015, following the precedent set in Tokyo (Shibuya-ku and Setagaya-ku), has
much more to do with the progressive policies of the two-term female mayor,
Nakagawa Tomoko (b. 1947), than the fact that the Revue is located there. Mayor Nakagawa, who had served in the House of Representatives, was elected in 2009 after her predecessor was arrested on bribery charges and won re-election in 2013. She has been a member of opposition parties. After she introduced the same-sexmarriage certificates, a dominant party (LDP) colleague of hers claimed that Takarazuka City would become the hub of an HIV epidemic! He later retracted his statement and apologized! Ironically, the first applicants for the same-sex certificate provided by Shibuya-ku were former otokoyaku Maki Aura, whose real name is Higashi Koyuki, and her partner Masuhara Hiroko. Both run an information service in Tokyo for sexual minorities.

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And both have detailed their recent marriage ceremony at Disney in manga form, so we’re familiar with them here at Okazu.

Well this was fantastic, Jennifer, thank you for your time and your perspective on this unique institution.



Takarazuka: Zorro, The Masked Messiah (ZORRO 仮面のメサイア

July 20th, 2016

tcad-251Takarazuka Week here at Okazu continues!

So last night, I was digging around in my shelves for something Takarazuka to review and with some surprise I found a DVD set I had previously purchased…and never actually opened up! As I probably bought it 5 years ago, I felt a little sheepish about that as you can imagine. ^_^ Last night I sat down to watch Zorro, The Masked Messiah from 2009, performed by the Snow Troupe. This was the second disk in a 2-disk set, that also included a Japanese period piece, Kaze no Nishiki-E  (風の錦絵 / ZORRO 仮面のメサイア).

This performance was everything about Takarazuka all at once. ^_^

On the minus side, the “Indians”  were just cringeworthy. Thankfully, they didn’t go full-on redface, but the conflation of Plains tribe headdresses in Southern California made me zap through whole intolerably awful scenes. I just felt upon watching those scenes much as the Japanese may have watching Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Like, maybe you just shouldn’t. That would be okay, really.

On the plus side, while Mizu Natsuki was perfectly fine as Don Diego, Ayabuki Mao was brilliant as Mendoza, with a masterful sneer. She was a genuine pleasure to watch and her swagger, for once, was quite appropriate.

Also on the plus side was Shirahane Yuri as Lolita, and “Lady Zorro.” Do you remember the ballroom scene in Zorro: The Gay Blade? (you have watched that, yes? If not go  immediately and watch it.) In this version, it is Lolita who organized the many Zorros and she does a great job of holding up the role herself. That was a nice rewrite and fun scene.

A few of the songs were even a little catchy, an added plus.

Ratings:

Overall – 8

Zorro: The Gay Blade still wins all the Zorro adaptations ever, but this one, minus the excruciating bits, was pretty good.

 



Takarazuka: La Rose de Versailles 2001, Oscar et Andre (ベルサイユのばら 2001 – オスカルとアンドレ編)

July 19th, 2016

RoVOeA2001Welcome back to Takarazuka Week on Okazu! We’ve got another interview coming up and a review of Chicago at Lincoln Center in our future, so check back regularly!

There are several Takarazuka productions that I have seen on VHS or DVD that I have never reviewed…for many reasons. One was so awful I needed my brain scrubbed and as the Top Star couple is very popular, I didn’t want to deal with the backlash. ^_^; One was just very complicated and I will one day review it. One was brutally dull. But among these many Takarazuka shows I have not reviewed is the very first one I ever saw. It seemed to me that this is the perfect time to revisit it.

In 2003 or so, I obtained a copy of  La Rose de Versailles 2001, Oscar et Andre  (ベルサイユのばら 2001 – オスカルとアンドレ編). Of course, Takarazuka has done this show countless times, and written versions that focus on Fersen and Marie Antoinette, as well as Oscar and Andre. I knew of Takarazuka when I got the VHS, but I had never actually watched any. (How did we survive before Youtube?) So this was my first experience with the idea. Sure, I was open to the idea of women in uniforms, and I knew the story of Rose of Versailles, so it seemed like the perfect fit.

My wife and I sat down to watch it and after 15 minutes of an opening number that mostly consisted of the word “Love” repeated over and over over and over and over and over, I thought….”Are you kidding me?”

My wife took another tack and started making up her own lyrics to the songs. They were hysterical and it got us through the first bit. I couldn’t help but notice that Minoru Kou as Oscar had to duck down to be shorter than Kouju Tatsuki as Andre every minute and my enthusiasm was slipping….until Aran Kei walked out on the stage as Hans Axel von Fersen.  She started speaking and I remember saying out loud, “Oh, now I get it!” ^_^

I’m never going to love the music for this show, it had all the the weaknesses of music written by the Takarazuka staff – one (or no) musical theme, no peaks, just a slow crescendo then it sort of peters off, nothing catchy. And while I’ve been a fan ever since, I’m really glad that my first live Takarazuka show was Elizabeth, not Rose of Versailles.

Ratings:

Overall – 7

It’s not as bad as the Fersen and Antoinette focused version, but not stunning, except for Aran Kei, who was stunning. Here’s a bit of the show for you to enjoy and make your own decisions. Yay Youtube!



Yuri Drama CD: Grand Stage, Volume 4 “Minami Kohaku” (グラン・ステージ 第4幕「美波琥珀」)

July 18th, 2016

GDMK4I can’t think of a better place to wallow in the wonderful gender-bendiness of Takarazaka, than to enjoy the reimagining of it in our own image in the Grand Stage series of Drama CDs. Today, we’re looking at the 4th of the first series, Grand Stage, Volume 4 “Minami Kohaku (グラン・ステージ 第4幕「美波琥珀」).

In the previous CDs, we played the part of young musumeyaku (women playing female roles) who met and were paired with otokoyaku (women who play the male roles) who were charming, arrogant and boyish in turn. In Volume 4, we play an older, experienced musumeyaku who has been paired with a new otokoyaku in training and are taking her under our wing.

Minami Kohaku, the young, inexperienced lead, is played by Kitamuri Eri, who we best know as Miki Sayaka from Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Cure Berry from Fresh! Precure. She brings an earnest and passionate personality to Kohaku that we find absolutely irresistible.

The performance we’re working on is an adaptation of Camille by Alexandre Dumas fils; with several references to the famous opera based on the novel, La Traviata. Kohaku has come to us for special training before taking on Armand.

We learn that Kohaku has joined Grand Stage after her older sister…whom she is surprised to learn is rather famous among the leads. The two of us sneak into the theater and, as we are about to confess something about our fears, we are interrupted. We run away. Kohaku admits that he’s fallen in love a little bit with the stage, with us, with our voice. We are put out by this. Her explanation, and her sincerity turns us around. What follows is a slightly sexy scene as Kohaku realizes that it wasn’t her confession that bothered us, but her apology for it. We call her “pure” and imply something that sets her spluttering with embarrassment. She wasn’t thinking of that, she assures us! And adorably, she asks us out for a hamburger. And says she looks forward to our relationship changing as we get to know each other better. Clearly we are besotted by her adorableness.

When she vows to work hard to be worthy of us, you just know we squeed inside. Outside we were just cool and mature. ^_^  (For this CD, I think I would have liked to have our dialogue, too.)  And we promise to wait until she graduates and becomes our partner.

The final track is Kohaku’s image song, predictably titled “La Traviata” which is a crappy tango-esque piece that Kitamura does a very decent job with.

Included with the CD is a “signed” picture which, this time, includes a note of thanks. With her dreamy amber eyes, and her kiss to our hand, Kohaku is clearly going to make a wonderful Armand to our Marguerite.

Ratings:

Overall – 10

I was 100% with the “me” of the storyline. Minami Kohaku was absolutely irresistible. ^_^