Yesterday, I went to the Takarazuka Theater near Osaka with my friend, Masae. Takarazuka Theater has been around since 1914 and is an all female theater.
We saw the "Snow" troupe perform a classic and well-known musical/play called The Rose of Versailles. It's based on a manga (comic) book about a noble family in France during the time of Marie Antoinette. The noble family has six daughters, but for generations they always had a boy who was a soldier in the in family. So the family decides to raise the youngest girl as a boy. They call her "Oscar-san". Everyone really likes Oscar-san. At some point during the play a female and male friend both profess their love for Oscar. Oscar ends up telling her male friend that she loves him too, so they have one night together before they go off to war. They both die during the war and end up in heaven to spend eternity together. The storyline was a bit confusing considering it's being played by an all female troupe
Here's a picture from the poster. I think "Oscar-san" looks like Michael Jackson.
The performance was fantastic and over the top. I felt like I was in Las Vegas. There was so much glitter, sequins and razzle dazzle. There was a huge staircase that the performers could go up and down on, a huge moving stage that spun and had areas where the actresses could be lowered below the stage or raised to stage level, lots of fog from the fog machine, a flying horse that the lead actress sat on and flew around the stage, and as part of the finale a line dance with the women doing synchronized high kicks. It was really glizty and fun! I wish I could’ve taken pictures.
The Takarazuka has an air of mystery surrounding them because their training is so rigorous and they are not allowed to socialize with men, especially the male actresses. There is a Takarazuka Theater School where 40-50 high school students are accepted out of the 1000 that apply each year. The school is very strict and has a rigorous schedule for the students with singing, dancing, acting and more.
During the student's second year, they must decide whether they will play male or female roles only. The male roles are very popular among fans and are considered the top stars of the show. Once the students graduate from the school they are placed in one of five performing troupes called, "Snow", "Star", "Moon", "Flower" and "Cosmos". Each troupe perform 2-3 times each year in Osaka and Tokyo and sometimes go abroad. There's also "Special Course" for retired Takarazukinnes that want to continue to perform. The performers usually retire in their 30s.
It seems that the male actresses are suppose to keep their male image in tact on and off the stage. The plays/musicals are usually very romantic and present a very idealized version of men. So, many Japanese women love the male actresses. I don't think it's sexual, I think it's more about the persona of a heroic man that will sweep you off your feet in a kind of Disney romantic non-sexual way. The fans are young women 15-25 years old. I think at least 95% of the audience was female. There are many fan clubs as well. As we were leaving the theater there were a group of women waiting by the theater exit for the actresses. It’s all very bizarre and interesting.
For more information here’s a good website: http://takarazuka.sugarandspicecosplay.com/