I read “Takarazuka: Japan’s newest ‘traditional’ theater turns 100” (Japan Times, April 14, 2013) and I thought “Maybe I need to get out more.” The Takarazuka Revue looks like the epitome of Japanese kitsch and gaudiness to me. In other words, pretty gorss and ugly. Japanese do kitsch and gaudy really well, in stark contrast to what we are taught are the traditional aesthetics and values - like the tight choreography of the tea ceremony or the nihonbuyo style of traditional Japanese dance performed by geisha. Maybe the lesson is that kitschy, campy and gaudy displays reside in the heart of Japanese aesthetics after all. Certainly at the heart of popular entertainment, anyway, as any evening spent in front of the telly here will convince. Or, maybe the lesson is strictly one about the different approach to stage theater in Asia compared to the West.
I know it is highly acclaimed and revered by devoted fans in Japan (mostly middle aged women). But what I come away with after seeing images of the Takarazuka Revue - especially images of the otokoyaku (male-role actresses) - is an impression of transvestism and bad taste. Transvestism mostly. Takarazuka shows resemble a Gay Pride Parade in Sydney, which is fine if that’s what’s intended. But I don’t think it is.
Kabuki is very traditional and it too involves a lot of cross-dressing. And, several high-profile gay and transgender entertainers appear on television regularly as tarentos - more to feed a repressed cultural fetish than anything else, I imagine. But the point is that there appears to be a definite sexual string running through Japanese culture that is played for its discordant effect. Maybe its an expression of wabi-sabi: designed asymmetry and asperity meant to remind us of the transience of our artificial social and cultural premises.
I know the young ladies in the Takarazuka Revue school work very hard. It’s just a shame that what they do isn’t ... something else.
Maybe I really do need to get out more.