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  • Gender Gymnastics: Performing and Consuming Japan's Takarazuka Revue
  • John D. Swain
Gender Gymnastics: Performing and Consuming Japan's Takarazuka Revue. By Leonie R. Stickland. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, 2008. 281 pp. Paper, $34.95.

The all-female Takarazuka Musical Revue is a modern Japanese theatrical phenomenon that piques the curiosity of theatre lovers, critics, and students of Japanese society and culture. Even in Japan curiosity is sustained because of the insular nature of the troupe. New material in English about Takarazuka, especially from sources close to the troupe, is therefore exciting. Leonie R. Stickland's new book, Gender Gymnastics: Performing and Consuming Japan's Takarazuka Revue, is a welcome supplement to our knowledge because of her unprecedented access to Takarazuka actors, administrators, and staff, but ultimately the book does not fulfill the promise of its title to clarify the gender implications of the group.

For several decades, Stickland has been a fan and an employee of the Takarazuka Revue. Information from the interviews with actors, staff, and fans is the most valuable contribution the book makes. With the help of the voices of those involved in the troupe, Stickland attempts three main things. First, she counters arguments set forth in Jennifer Robertson's Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) and Karen Nakamura and Hisako Matsuo's "Female Masculinity and Fantasy Spaces: Transcending Genders in the Takarazuka Theatre and Japanese Popular Culture" (In Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Japan: Dislocating the Salaryman Doxa, edited by James Roberson and Nobue Suzuki, pp. 59–76 [London: Routledge Curzon, 2003]). Stickland locates the performance of gender and sexuality, by performers and fans alike, between what she characterizes as the sexualized view of Robertson and the asexual view of Nakamura and Matsuo. A second objective is to deepen knowledge of Takarazuka within its historical and sociological contexts; in this aim she is partly successful. The third objective is to show the function of a Takarazuka dramaturgy and aesthetic as a resistant response to Japanese gender norms. It is this last objective, the "gender gymnastics" of the title, that promises the most provocative insights. However, here the book disappoints. There are extremely limited comparisons to theatrical and gender norms of other unisex forms such as kabuki, and no use of recent sources on Japanese sexuality and gender construction, such as Gregory M. Pflugfelder's Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600–1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

The first three chapters supplement current knowledge of the history and operations of the revue. Chapter 1 clarifies how the company and [End Page 194] its founder, Kobayashi Ichizō, constantly adjusted to social, political, and economic forces over the years. In chapter 2, Takarazuka performers and staff paint a picture of their personal and social reasons for joining the troupe. The personal stories of the actors are sometimes compelling. However, although Stickland looks at these reasons through the lens of gender constructs in Japanese society, she does not add much new insight on gender dynamics. Chapter 3 details the Takarazuka audition and training process; as a result of her access Stickland provides information previously unavailable in English.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 add to our knowledge of the revue, primarily through the statements of Stickland's informants. However this half of the book fails to deliver on the gender analysis promised in the title. Stickland's conclusions break little new ground. Her main assertion in chapter 4 is: "Performers' gender, therefore, is fluid, not fixed, and various markers of gender can be consciously chosen and utilized by individuals to suit the purposes of each situation" (p. 136). This fluidity of gender and roles is found in performing arts around the world. It can be argued that such fluidity is more common in Japanese than American performing arts. Though it could even be argued that Takarazuka has greater gender fluidity than other Japanese performing arts, Stickland does not develop her case. Such a conclusion would have far-reaching implications for analysis and scholarship on Japanese theatre and society. However Stickland does not demonstrate that Takarazuka is exceptional in this regard. The fluidity of gender...