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Takarazuka Revue’s 100th Anniversary

The Takarazuka Revue is a whirlwind show; blink once and you’ve probably missed a costume change or two. The town of Takarazuka is famous for two reasons: it was the home of a famous manga artist and it plays host to the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female company that performs plays, musicals, and dazzling dance numbers.


This year is the 100th anniversary, so the Revue has pulled out all the stops. Formed in 1913 by the president of the Hankyu railway company, the Revue held its first performance in 1914. Currently there are 5 troupes: Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and Cosmos. Each group has a slightly distinct character to it. For example, the Flower troupe is regarded as the top troupe and receives a larger budget. The Moon troupe is known for strong singers and the Cosmos troupe tends to be more experimental. On April 20, I saw a performance featuring the Moon troupe. Because of the anniversary year, the top male and female performers from each troupe make occasional guest performances in other troupes on special dates.


The Revue is a highly competitive company. Girls can audition between the ages of 15-18 each year to enter the Takarazuka Music School where they train for 2 years as part of a 7-year contract. Competition is fierce; with a maximum of 50 girls being admitted out of an audition group of several thousand each year. At the end of their first year, the students are divided into male (otokoyaku) and female (musumeyaku) performers. The otokoyaku cut their hair short and must cultivate a male persona while in the classroom, including their style of speech.


The 100th anniversary show is longer than the regular show, which typically has 2 acts, a song/dance extravaganza and a shortened version of a famous play or musical. The anniversary show was 3 acts long. The first act, entitled “Classic Takarazuka Dance,” was more traditional and featured the graduating class from the music school. A special part of the performance saw the girls dressed in flowery pink kimonos receiving graduation scrolls from their master. The rest of the act was a variety of “Minyou folk songs. The second act was the play, “A Guide to the Future: The Logbook of the Century”. The play was set on an American passenger ship called the Century and revolved around Jake, the chief communications officer, and his encounter with Leila, the wife of a pearl merchant on board. Jake meets a mysterious girl on the ship with whom he has a brief conversation before she disappears. While searching for her, Jake meets Leila who tells him that she is carrying a bouquet of flowers that she aims to offer to the soul of her sister who died on the Titanic 22 years earlier. Leila notices that Jake is carrying around a logbook, which he explains is a novel he is working on. At this point, my English guide to the performance ended, so I was left to navigate the rest of the storyline simply by watching. The performance was great and if I understood correctly, our two main characters fall in love and live happily ever after. Awww.


The final act was a special anniversary presentation of the Flower Poems. This is the performance where the actors are at their sparkliest; glitter and sequins abound as group after group descend the massive grand staircase led by the main male and female actors. The Takarazuka Revue is truly a special show and well worth the visit if you enjoy the theatre and a unique Japanese experience. Don’t forget to pick up a postcard of your favourite otokoyaku or musumeyaku after the show!


Jessica McSavage




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