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Asian Theatre Journal 17.1 (2000) 129-131

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Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan. By Jennifer Robertson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 278 pp. Cloth $40.00; paper $15.95.

Until I read this book I had never given much thought to the Takarazuka Revue. Years ago simple curiosity took me to the Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre a couple of times just to see what all the fuss was about. The productions, many of them musicals, feature all-female casts. The stories and settings draw liberally (and loosely) from world history and geography. Expect anything at the Takarazuka: from the Tale of Genji-inspired imperial court to twentieth-century Paris-in-the-springtime.

In reading the book I was surprised to learn the degree to which the revue, which had its start some eighty-five years ago, is flourishing today. The author reports that a fifth stage troupe has recently been added to the Takarazuka organization, which comprises about seven hundred people in all, of whom some four hundred are performers. The main venues for shows are the Grand Theatre, the centerpiece of the Takarazuka hot springs resort complex located just outside of Osaka, and the Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre in the fashionable Ginza section of the city. Both houses can accommodate audiences of approximately three thousand. Moreover, a third Takarazuka theatre is under construction near Tokyo Disneyland and the original Tokyo theatre will itself be replaced by a new structure that is scheduled to open in the near future.

For anthropologist Jennifer Robertson, whose scholarly reputation was established with her previous book, the well-received Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City (1991), the revue presents an opportunity to explore "the overlapping discourses of gender, sexuality, popular culture, and national identity as they erupted into the world framed by Takarazuka" (p. 23). I opened the new book somewhat tentatively--how interesting could a book devoted entirely to the Takarazuka Revue be, I wondered--only to discover that the subject proves itself tailor-made for Robertson's cultural studies approach. In focusing on matters such as power and identity, cultural studies at its worst dishes up a tangle of theories housed in impenetrable vocabulary. At its best it carefully applies theories--and skillfully uses theoretical vocabulary--in order to open up new avenues of scholarly exploration that may lead to unexpectedly interesting outcomes--as is the case with [End Page 129] Robertson's work on the Takarazuka. Among the theorists whose work Robertson draws on are John Fiske, author of Understanding Popular Culture (1989), and Morag Shiach, whose works include Discourse on Popular Culture: Class, Gender, and History in Cultural Analysis, 1730 to the Present (1989).

At first glance the topics covered by Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan seem impossibly far-ranging for inclusion in one book. On the one hand, the chapter called "Performing Empire," which covers the 1931-1945 period, looks at the role of the revue "in dramatizing and aestheticizing imperial ideology, including the practice of assimilation" (p. 22). On the other hand, the chapters titled "Staging Androgyny," "Fan Pathology," and "Writing Fans" deal mainly with matters of sex, sexuality, and gender representation. Robertson is able to bring all these pieces together, however, identifying what she calls "the androgynous ambivalence of Japanese modernity" (p. 23). The ambivalence she cites is by no means only sexual in nature. It extends from the cross-dressing of the otokoyaku (Takarazuka performers who play the roles of men) to what the author calls the "cross-ethnicking" that was a feature of the revue during the war period. Revue theatre in general "represented a new synthesis of Japanese and non-Japanese cultural artifacts and institutions, not imposed from without but produced by the deliberate selection and repositioning (both official and unofficial) of forms and symbols....[It] was a whole new, national phenomenon of popular culture: a unique, wholesomely exotic hybrid institution representative of a New Japan" (p. 213).

The name Kobayashi Ichizo comes up frequently in Robertson's account, for...


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