Gender Performance in the Takarazuka Revue

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Charles Chao

Essay Questions:
i. “The body is a historical situation, as Beauvoir has claimed, and is a manner of doing, dramatizing, and reproducing a historical situation…. The act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, gender is an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again…. Gender reality is performative, which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed.” Judith Butler

Discuss this statement in relation to Dreams Girls and aspects of Takarazuka Revue.

“I, Kaeki Mori, am leaving. Farewell colleagues. Goodbye to being a man. Goodbye Takarazuka!” These were the ending words of the film documentary Dream Girls. As the credits roll, skeptical audiences might wonder: how true is that announcement? Or is it just a part of the performance? In line to what Judith Butler said that gender realities are “real only to the extent that it is performed”, Kaeki Mori renounces her stage identity and stage gender. Yet, does that mean that the Takarasienne can really say “goodbye to being a man” the moment she stops performing the role of one? In fact, was she ever a man in the first place? This essay seeks to examine Butler’s statement and discuss the fleeting concept of gender reality both in itself and in relation to the surreal dream world of Takarazuka Revue. To propose that the Revue, while existing as a good example of a world with artificially created but functioning gender roles cannot be taken to be a reflection of the real world nor a reliable substantiation to Butler’s statement that gender realities are real “only to the extent that it is performed” for the Takarasienne are both subverting and reinforcing gender realities while being constantly aware of their own performative nature. For the purpose of this paper I shall refer to “sex” as the biological and primal physiological identity and “gender” to refer to the culturally imposed construct men and women are classified to.

The Takarazuka Revue

As opposed to traditional Kabuki theatre where females were not allowed to perform, the Takarazuka Revue is a modern, all-female Japanese theatre troupe staging western style musicals. It was the subject of the documentary film Dream Girls which features the life of students and performers of the troupe, known as Takarasienne. Out of the thousands that apply, the few that are chosen will have to live through 2 years of monastic-like training in the school. After the students are split into Otokoyaku (girls who play male roles) and the Musumeyaku (girls who play girl roles) they would then undergo training to fit into these roles. Yet unlike what gender realities are like in the actual world, the roles created for the Takarazuka Revue are jarringly different.

History of Japanese Hierarchy

Before we go into the gender realities of women in modern Japan or discuss Beauvoir’s “historical situation” and the performance required of women, let us first examine the deeply conservative, hierarchical and phallocentric society of Japan. Members of one hierarchical rung behave dramatically different from the next regardless of sex. As we can see from Dream Girls, the junior students have to at all times be respectful to the senior students and appear meek while dutifully tending to their cleaning duties, even apologizing for an act as harmless as running in front of a senior. The seniors on the other hand appear to be dignified, barely acknowledging the juniors with a slight nod, as if the juniors are not worthy of a greet. This performance stems from Japan’s deeply rooted Confucian social order coupled with their historical military culture of the warriors code “Bushido” and “Bafuku” military rule (Edo-period samurai had the right to...
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