Tezuka and Takurazuka Theater: A Brief Introduction

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Takarazuka Stars

The Takarazuka Theater

by Ada Palmer

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Takarazuka Black Jack

Introduction:

Tezuka’s hometown of Takarazuka, near Osaka, is the home of the famous Takarazuka theater, an all-female musical theater troop, which founded in 1913 by industrialist Kobayashi Ichizo. By 1924 they were a popular enough attraction in what had already been a tourist town due to its hot springs that the company was able to open its own theater. The audience are largely female as well, and the troop performs plays of a romantic nature, many based on Western fairytales or Japanese historical subjects, as well as some modern subjects and adaptations of Western theatrical subjects from Gone with the Wind to Guys and Dolls. The recurring themes of princes and princesses torn apart or thrust together by destiny can be found in almost all their period plays. The costuming, particularly for historical pieces, is very elaborate and spectacular, and the chorus performs spectacular dances during the musical numbers. (For those familiar with the anime Sakura Wars, it is based on these all-female Takarazuka companies, flower troop, moon troop etc.)

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Takarazuka

All women performing in the Takarazuka theater are young, and their lifestyle in the company is very strict, with mandatory dorm living and dating and marriage strictly prohibited during their stage careers. Since all roles in the Takarazuka theater are played by women, those women with lower voices who are usually cast as male leads tend to take on a semi-masculine personae during their performing years. In one case when a Takarazuka star customarily cast in male roles appeared on stage in a female role, the audience was heard to shout, 'They’ve castrated him!'

Tezuka and Takarazuka:

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Takarazuka Chorus

When young Osamu Tezuka grew up in the town of Takarazuka, his mother was close friends with many of the Takarazuka actresses, and they made rather a pat of the shy but intelligent little boy. He often watched their performances, and recalled being entranced by the pageantry and fairytale . Thus, it was the cross-gendered romantic world of Takarazuka that inspired him to create Sapphire the male-female Princess-Knight, the foundational work of girls’ manga (shoujo).

Takarazuka and Manga:

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The Crowd

In 1974, the popularity of the Takarazuka theater was waning, and the troop faced bankruptcy. They decided to perform a musical adaptation of Rose of Versailles (Versailles no Bara), a popular manga and anime series about the French Revolution which had revolutionized shoujo manga art and initiated the familiar style of sparkly eyes and elaborate costuming. The central character, Oscar Francois de Jarjays, was a noblewoman raised as a man to become the commander of the French Royal Guard, and explicitly based on Tezuka’s character Sapphire.

Rose of Versailles was an instant success, and remains the most popular play in Takarazuka history, single-handedly saving the theater from bankruptcy and launching it to a new popularity. After this great success, the troops followed by performing a number of variations on the original Rose of Versailles, each focusing on different characters. They also followed with a number of other plays adapted from popular manga, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena (another series based on Princess Knight and Rose of Versailles). The overwhelming appeal of Osamu Tezuka, both as a Japanese cultural hero and as a local boy, led to many Tezuka-based performances, including Phoenix and Black Jack: Risky Betting in 1994, the same year as the opening of the Tezuka museum in Takarazuka.

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Black Jack having a seat

Takarazuka plays based on Tezuka's works:

Black Jack: Risky Betting presents an original story, based on Black Jack’s failed romance with the medical student Kisaragi Kei. The play features Pinoko, the usual corrupt gangsters and politicians which Black Jack encounters so often, and a number of chorus groups including one spectacular dance with the chorus dressed in costumes inspired by Black Jack’s unique black and white hairline. Interesting musical numbers include the song “Black Jack” in which the populace of a small country sing of their curiosity about this mysterious doctor who has prevented a military coup by saving the life of their leader, and a soulful inner-voice piece performed as a duet between two actresses one representing Black Jack and the other representing his inner thoughts.

Other Takarazuka Links

Published Sep 22, 2011 (Updated Jul 26, 2012)