“The Dream Machine: Takarazuka, Japan’s All-Female Musical Theatre Extravaganza.”
After a modest start in 1914 with a troupe of seventeen young Japanese women, the Takarazuka empire has grown into a large entertainment company which performs to 2.5 million fans every year. Now employing over 400 women (divided into five troupes), the company owns two 2000-seat theatres, and at least one troupe is touring at any given time. The Takarazuka aesthetic is a technicolor pastiche of many performing arts genres: Broadway musical, Vegas revue, Busby Berkeley extravaganza, and show choir. The most famous performers in the troupe are the women who perform the male characters; their performance of masculinity is not conventional drag where the intent is to pass, nor is it a camp performance where the performer and audience share a knowing wink at the artifice. The otokoyaku simultaneously presents both traditional male and female visual codes. While they may thicken their eyebrows and add facial hair, they also don fake eyelashes and apply eyeshadow; the goal is not verisimilitude. With 80-100 elaborately costumed performers on stage, the goal of the company is clear: to create dreams.