Androgyny in the Spotlight: The Dream and Downfall of the Takarazuka Revue

Stardom vs. Academia

When someone advises you to focus on your studies rather than chasing stardom, they might be onto something. Reality shows that becoming a star is significantly more challenging than getting into a prestigious university. Take, for instance, the University of Tokyo, Japan’s top institution, with an acceptance rate of 22%. In contrast, the acceptance rate for the renowned Takarazuka Revue, a theater troupe blending song, dance, and drama, is a mere 3.7%. There’s a catch, though: you must be female.

Founded over a century ago, the Takarazuka Revue is an iconic all-female musical theater troupe. Each year, thousands of girls from across Japan vie for a spot at the Takarazuka Music School, with only about 40 to 50 making the cut. Once admitted, they undergo two years of intensive, rigorous training. Before stepping onto the stage, these new recruits must first learn to clean the school every morning. After their training, students are assigned to one of the Revue’s five troupes (Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and Cosmos) to begin their performances.

Otokoyaku vs. Musumeyaku

Takarazuka operates under a unique system where students are divided into “otokoyaku” (male role) or “musumeyaku” (female role) based on their performance and potential. Otokoyaku actresses take on male roles, often cutting their hair short, wearing male attire, and embodying the confidence and allure of men in both voice and mannerism. On the other hand, musumeyaku actresses portray female roles, preserving traditional feminine grace and beauty.

The Ideal Man: Otokoyaku’s Appeal

So, is it better to be an otokoyaku or a musumeyaku? Undeniably, otokoyaku actresses often steal the spotlight. Many legendary actresses in Japan’s entertainment industry, such as Yuki Amami, Mao Daichi, and Miki Maya, began their careers as otokoyaku. These actresses have become the idealized male figures for many female fans, exuding a blend of strength and non-threatening charm that real men might lack.

The Decline of a Legacy?

Recently, however, Takarazuka’s rigid system and feudal gender norms have come under criticism. Incidents of bullying and even suicides among troupe members have led some to believe that Takarazuka is in decline. Once a dream for countless girls, the Revue, often seen as Japan’s first “girl group,” now faces a tarnished reputation. Whether it remains a dream or has turned into a nightmare is a question only the audience can answer.

Photo source: SoraNews24, Inside Japan Tours, The Theatre Times, Reddit

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