Thoughts on Takarazuka & “Dream Girls”

I just wanted to write a little more in response to the film “Dream Girls” we saw in class today:

I really found it intriguing how much emphasis is put on the women as male stars. Tomomi brought up that, during the restaurant scene, the girl who played male roles in Takarazuka said she had always liked the female parts – but even though this alludes to the fact that there are female roles, it doesn’t speak much for female stars. I wonder what the difference between male and female role stars is, or if the female characters are actually given anywhere near as much hype. As was also mentioned in class, it seems as though female fans understand the fact that all of Takarazuka’s stars are female (e.g. stars are often brought girly things like baskets and gift bags); but it was interesting to see this fan-craze illustrated for the women who play men’s roles.

The whole concept of the Takarazuka school and theater still baffles me. Here you have this amazing progressive all-women’s theater company with multiple sub-troupes – and on the other hand, you have this repressive academy that teaches girls “feminine” arts, like singing and cleaning. Not only does the school instill discipline in the girls, it also teaches them the traditional role of wife, house-cleaner, and songbird…always taking directions from their male superiors (which, later in life, will be their husbands). When young girls enter into an institution of this sort, it doesn’t surprise me that they turn to one another for the affection, attention, and support they are not necessarily getting from their middle-aged professors and “Father.” Even in the documentary we watched, it seems as though male stars are more important than female stars – once again reinforcing the stereotype idea that mean are more dominant over and more important than women. It would have been nice to see both sides of the spectrum.

However, in actual Takarazuka productions, even the male characters seem very effeminate when you try to mentally compare them to real men (an obvious point). Some of the girls interviewed in the documentary said that Takarazuka males are less coarse and more refined than real men – which seems like the manifestation of a feminine trait in a masculine form. The first thing I thought of when I saw a Takarazuka male character was a manga or anime: Male characters in both tend to possess slightly effeminate features (delicate faces, big eyes, strong chins, etc.) and mannerisms (hip swaying, cross-dressing). Maybe young girls like Takarazuka so much because it allows them to express their desire for the kind of affection one could only receive from another female in a more socially acceptable way, i.e. by projecting those feelings onto a male character.

I didn’t really see a lesbian sub-context in the film, as Robertson claims in her book. Sure, there was a scene where one girl was feeding another…but couldn’t that also be deemed friendly platonic behavior? School girls are more affectionate with one another than school boys, so I don’t think that the feeding scene is a valid example of lesbianism in Takarazuka. Also in shots where the girls were rehearsing physical maneuvers and blocking for their scenes, I don’t think that their being “touchy-feely” is an example of their lesbian attraction for one another – I think they were simply rehearsing their parts and trying to get into things. They are actresses and performers, above all else.

I still am left with one question, as sparked by a discrepancy between the book and the movie: When girls enter Takarazuka, do they choose which gender role they will play, or are they assigned based on their traits? Is it a matter of self-selection based on one’s own traits and abilities, or do instructors and professors insist a girl go one way or the other?

All in all, I think that both the book and film were quite limited in terms of what they were allowed to show publicly. It’s interesting that the Takarazuka school keeps things so shrouded and private, but I think that’s probably just a matter of respecting the private lives of their faculty/staff, students, and stars.

Great class today, and I’m looking forward to more discussion on this topic!

– Jorie


4 Responses to Thoughts on Takarazuka & “Dream Girls”

  1. tomomi says:

    According to a Japanese website on Takarazuka Revue,
    The ultimate decision on whether to become otokoyaku or musumeyaku lies with the student herself – but generally, height is considered as the most important factor in deciding secondary gender. Teachers may suggest students to become otokoyaku or musumeyaku based on their height, voice tone, facial features, etc. Teachers may recommend students to take either role, or sometimes to switch the secondary gender.

  2. tomomi says:

    Thee “lesbian subtext” in the film that Robertson talks about might nob be necessarily on whether actual lesbian relationships are depicted in the film or not, but rather on the filmmakers’ intentions to make the film as a “lesbian film.” The ways they choose particular shots and edit, and advertise the film could reflect their intention on how they would like to make their film.
    This is the website for the film – there are many lesbian and gay film festivals that this film was shown.

    Thanks so much, Jorie, for writing your comment and upload it so quickly onto this blog!!

  3. Acting Tips says:

    Acting Tips

    Interesting article, Thanks for sharing.

  4. o_Ozhuh says:

    I recently watched the film in my feminist theory class. I find it very interesting because Takarazuka both subvert and reinforce sex/gender/sexuality heteronormative.
    From the documentary, it seems that only male stars are considered top star. In an interview with a female and male leading actors, the female one said that female actors have to shine too, but their priority is to make the male stars shine. (I’m using “male” and “female” to indicate actors who play male and female roles).
    In Jennifer Robertson’s essay “The politics of androgyny in Japan: sexuality and subversion in the theater and beyond,” she wrote that there was times when androgynous looks were used to soften male actors, so they deviate less from the norms.
    Another point raised in my class was how sex, gender, sexuality (image of men and women) link to nation-statehood (identity of a nation). In Japan, a traditional woman is expected to be “good wife, wise mother.” A man (principal of the school?) in the film said that traditional Japanese (not women) use dustpan and broom to clean. But of course we know that mostly, if not only, women do the cleaning.

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