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27 November 2022

Japanese male-impersonation troupes: Part II- Shôchiku Revue & Ichikawa Shōjo Kabuki

Part I - Kabuki & Takarazuka Revue 

Part II- Shôchiku Revue & Ichikawa Shōjo Kabuki

Shôchiku Revue

The Shôchiku Corporation is Japan’s oldest film and entertainment company. It was founded in 1895 by Ôtani Takejirô 大谷竹次郎. It took the name Shôchiku in 1902 when Otani was joined by his brother Shirai Matsujirô 白井松次郎. (‘Shôchiku’ is a word play based on alternate readings of the combined first characters of their names, “Matsu” (shô) and “Take” (chiku)). It quickly established a virtual monopoly through ownership of Kabuki troupes and theatres. From 1920 it established a studio and was making films. It was one of the first Japanese film companies to replace onnagata actors with actual women, as it adopted the practices and customs of Hollywood.

The Shôchiku Shōjo Kageki (Shôchiku Girls’ Revue, SSK) was founded in Osaka in 1920 to compete with Takarazuka.

One of the first to enrol was Mizunoe Takiko (水の江 瀧子) IMDB, who became an otokoyaku, and is credited with being the first to cut her hair short like a man rather than hide it under a hat.

In 1922 Mizunoe Takiko led one of the Japanese labor movement's few successful actions of the period when she headed a strike of the Shochiku Opera Company's performers in reaction to wage cuts. This was referred to as the ‘Pink Strike’. Almost 50 strikers were arrested, including Mizunoe. Eventually the action was successful, in part because the company could not be seen as exploiting its most popular star.

A second troupe was founded in 1928 in the Asakusa, the major working-class theatre district in Tokyo. It became the main rival of the Takarazuka. The Shôchiku Revue was cast as the opposite of the Takarazuka, more mature and more erotic and the otokoyaku were more masculine both on stage and off. While the uptown and wealthy clientèle went to the Takarazuka, working classes went to the Shôchiku.

Spring Dance, Osaka, 1929

Wakasa to netsu no shûdan geijutsu, IMDB a 9 minute film of the Shôchiku Shōjo Kageki was made in 1933 and included Saijo Eriko in the cast.

In January 1935 there was an attempted double suicide by leading musumeyaku Saijo Eriko and a fan, trans man Masuda Yasumare (a male name) after a nine-month romance. Eriko wrote an account for a women’s magazine shortly afterwards, in which she stressed Yasumare’s physical beauty, his straight white teeth, his Harold Lloyd spectacles and his ‘Eton crop’ hairstyle. It was the masculine Masuda who bore the brunt of press criticism.

Mizunoe Takiko continued to be popular in male roles throughout the prewar period, and toured northern China, the United States, and Europe, but returned to Japan as the country entered World War II. After the 1941 wartime ruling that forbad the otokoyaku from dressing as men, Mizunoe played female roles.

The Osaka SSK was renamed the Osaka Shochiku Kageki (OSK) in 1943 dropping the word ‘Shōjo’ as the Takarazuka had done. Unlike the Takarazuka the OSK kept performing, even during the air raids.

One month after Japan’s WWII defeat in 1945 , the OSK staged a revue to improve moral. This led to its post-war revival.

Ôtani was charged in 1947 as a Class A war criminal because of his propaganda films of the war years. He was expelled from the film industry (but quickly came back after the 1953 end of the US occupation).

The Osaka and the Tokyo branches of the Shôchiku Revue were separated, also in 1947.

Mizunoe Takiko played a male role in the 1949 film Hana Kurabe Tanuki Goten, and appeared on Japanese television in female roles. By the mid 1950s she was a film producer - one of the first female film producers in Japan.

The 1957 Hollywood film, Sayonara, IMDB EN.Wikipedia with Marlon Brando based on the novel by James Michener. The Brando character, USAF, defies regulations against inter-racial marriage and becomes involved with a Kagekidan performer (although not one who plays male roles). In the original novel the revue is the Takarazuka Revue, but in the film it is named the Matsubayashi Revue and in fact was performed by the Shôchiku Kagekidan). The female lead Taka Miiko 高美以子,who plays Hana-Ogi is not a member of the Shôchiku Kagekidan, but a Japanese American who had been interned in WWII. The protagonist’s US fiancée takes up with a Kabuki performer (yellow-face acting by Mexican Ricardo Montalban) but unlike real-life onnagata he performs both male and female roles. (Audrey Hepburn had been offered the role of the Shôchiku Kagekidan performer, but sensibly declined.)

Kawaji Ryuko
The 1958 promotional film Tokyo odori featured several Shôchiku Revue performers including Kawaji Ryuko IMDB.

1965, the OSK performed by invitation in Moscow, and returned in 1967. In 1970 the troupe was renamed OSK Nippon Kageki.

Mizunoe Takiko’s career in film and television ended in 1987 after her nephew Miura Kazuyoshi was accused of murdering his wife. This led to claims that he was actually Mizunoe’s love child (she had never married). She then retired and died in 2009 at age 94, a year after Miura either killed himself or was murdered in a Los Angeles jail.

Both the Osaka and the Tokyo branches of the Shôchiku Revue formally disbanded in 1990, although there have been revivals.

Senelick on the Shôchiku Kagekidan p319:

“Although its male impersonators perpetuate the heavy makeup, stiffly squared shoulders and sharply articulated arm movements of the otokoyaku, the female roles are more overtly voluptuous. The current ‘male’ star, Kyoko Kai, carries her weight in her upper body and moves her torso and limbs like a man: the effect is mesmerizing but unrefined. Tossing her red hair in a Spanish disco number, stomping her boots and twirling a purple satin cape like a camp Jose Iturbi, she takes an image of masculinity that is itself flamboyant and unintentionally renders it ridiculous. Traditional male impersonation seems to work best when it is based on an understated and self-confident image of masculine dominance.”

There is no entry in Jasper Sharp’s otherwise excellent Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema for Mizunoe Takiko.

Ichikawa Shōjo Kabuki

This troupe, which grew out of an extracurricular dance club in Toyokawa City, gave its first performance in 1949. It had no fixed abode and mainly toured. It was managed by actor Ichikawa Dankichi, and was approved of as real kabuki in 1952. It used the word 'Shōjo' (girls') despite both Takarazuka and the Shôchiku revues having decided to drop it, but it was needed in this case to distinguish it from men's Kabuki.   As per Kabuki tradition at least ten members of the troupe have been awarded the prestigious Ichikawa name. They were a sensation across Japan in the 1950s.

The newly formed troupe 27 July 1952

  • Wakasa to netsu no shûdan geijutsu: Shôchiku shôjo kageki no ichinichi. With the Shôchiku shôjo kageki. Japan 9 mins 1933

  • Joshua Logan (dir). Sayonara, 1957 Scr: Paul Osborn based on the novel by James Michener, with Marlon Brando as Major Lloyd Gruver, Miiko Taka as Hana-Ogi, and the Shôchiku Kagekidan revue.

  • Takata Tetsuo (dir). Tokyo odori. Features several Shôchiku performers. Japan 1958.

  • Jennifer Robinson. “Dying to Tell: Sexuality and Suicide in Imperial Japan” in Cindy Patton & Benigo Sanchez-Eppler (eds) Queer Diasporas. Duke University Press, 2000: 38-70.

  • Loren Edelson. Danjūrō’s Girls: Women on the Kabuki Stage. Palgrave Macmillan. 2009.

  • Jasper Sharp. “Shochiku Corporation (Shôchiku Kabushiki Gaisha, 松竹株式会社)” in Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema. The Scarecrow Press, 2011: 222-5.

  • Samuel L Leiter. “Ichikawa Girls’ Kabuki” in Kabuki at the Crossroads: Years of Crisis, 1952–1965. Leiden, 2013: 155-166.

History of OSK Revue IMDB(Shôchiku Kagekidan)

26 November 2022

Japanese male-impersonation troupes: Part I - Kabuki & Takarazuka Revue

Part I - Kabuki & Takarazuka Revue 


Okuni as a samuri
1600s: Izumo no Okuni 出雲の阿国 had been raised in service to the Grand Shrine of Izumi. She was known for her acting and dancing skills and was sent, as was the custom, to Kyoto to solicit contributions. She became known for her performance of the Nambusu, originally a sacred dance from 10th-century Pure Land Buddhism but by then a folk dance and as Okuni performed it, a dance of sexual suggestion. She also did skits about lovers and about prostitutes. She began to draw large crowds. She was summoned back to the Shrine but did not obey. By 1603 she was performing in the dry riverbed of the Kamo River and organized female outcasts including prostitutes. She taught them acting, dancing and singing and to play both male and female roles. She herself was best known for playing samurai and Christian priests. It was to her troupe that the term kabuki カブク (= leaning, slanted, shocking) was first applied. She even appeared before the Imperial Court. Historically this is referred to as onna kabuki (female Kaubuki)

1610: The start of the Shogunate, hereditary military rulers residing in Edo (later called Tokyo). The Emperor was restricted to formal functions.

1610 Izumo no Okuni retired and disappeared.

The Shogunate in 1629 forbade women from performing using the excuse of supposed immorality. A new Kabuki using young men in both female (Onnagata 女形/女方 (female role), or Oyama 女形) and male roles arose quickly but was in turn banned because of suggestions of prostitution. A third Kabuki performed by older men only was left, and has continued until recently,

Onnagata roles were forbidden in 1642, resulting in plays that featured only male characters, often with young males and pederastic implications, and so young male roles were also banned.

The ban on Onnagata was lifted in 1644.

Women did not perform on stage in Japan again until the 19th century, the late Edo period, when troupes of female actors performed privately for female audiences in the inner courts of daimyō households, where men were forbidden. After the overthrow of the Shogunate in 1868 all-female troupes onna shibai performed in public. By the turn of the century there were mixed gender companies where both onnagata and actual women played the female roles.

An all-female kabuki troupe played 1911 at the Teikoku Gekijō, the new western-style theatre in Tokyo. However the troupe lasted only a few years.

Takarazuka Revue

Kobayashi Ichizō
The Takarazuka Revue (宝塚歌劇団, Takarazuka Kagekidan) was originally called the Takarazuka Shōjo Kageki (Takarazuka Girls’ Revue) where ‘Shōjo’ means girl or young woman - sometimes defined as between puberty and marriage. The troupe was founded by Kobayashi Ichizō 小林 一三, an industrialist-turned-politician and president of Hankyu Railways, in Takarazuka, in 1913. The city was the terminus of a Hankyu train line from Osaka and already a popular tourist destination because of its hot springs. Kobayashi believed that it was the ideal spot to open an attraction of some kind that would boost train ticket sales and draw more business to Takarazuka. Since Western song and dance shows were becoming more popular and Kobayashi considered the Kabuki theatre to be old and elitist, he decided that an all-female theatre group in which women played both male and female roles might be well-received by the general public. The performances began in 1914 - at first in a converted hot-spring bath house. Audiences of 1,100 a day were immediately attracted. The first star was Asaji Shinohara.

By 1918 the first performances were held in Tokyo, with audiences of 2,000 a day. In August Michiko Yura - who had joined in 1913 at age 11 - died of an illness, the first member of the troupe to pass away. In November Asako Uji died from the Spanish Flu.

In 1919 10 men were hired as performers in addition to the female troupe, and the Takarazuka performances were transferred from the bath house to a regular theatre. The male performers had a trial performance in October, but they were disbanded a few weeks later.

Namiko Kumoi became the first to retire from the troupe in order to get married. She lived until 2003 and the age of 102.

Gender roles were not influenced by early Japanese feminism, nor were the otokayaku (the players of male roles) influenced by traditional femininity - they simply inverted or imitated the onnagata (the players of female roles in Kabuki) practice. It was neither a sign of independence nor a parody of the patriarchy. In the early days, the actresses - of either role - were also trained to be good wives and were usually released from the company at age 23. To pursue a career as an actress afterwards was frowned upon - one such actress was expunged from the graduate registry for doing so.

Within the first ten years after Takarazuka's founding, female fans wrote love letters to the otokoyaku. In 1921 these letters were published and several years later newspapers and the public rallied a cry against Takarazuka, claiming it was quickly becoming a "symbol of abnormal love". In addition a relationship between an otokoyaku and a musumeyaku (player of female roles) was discovered. To counter the lesbian image otokoyaku were told to wear military uniforms, although for some in the audience this made them even more attractive. In order to combat this, the producers kept the actresses isolated; they were no longer allowed to associate with their fans.

Also in 1921 the Revue was split into two troupes: “Flower” and “Moon”. Each troupe was governed by a male member of the management.

1923 January: the theater in Takarazuka caught fire and was damaged. A new theatre was speed-built in two months.

Following a visit in March by Anna Pavlova, of the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Ballets Russes and by then with her own company, a ballet teacher was hired.

On 1 September the Great Kanto Earthquake caused the Tokyo theater to catch fire. The revue performed in Nagoya while it was being repaired. (The earthquake was followed by a tsunami and firestorms, followed by vigilante killings of thousands of Koreans. The estimated overall death total is over 140,000.)

Performer Matsuko Takasago scandalised the public by getting married without retiring from the Takarazuka Revue (although she did do so in June 1925).

1924 The speed-built theatre in Takarazuka was replaced by the Takarazuka Dai Gekijō (Grand Theatre).

The third troupe “Snow” was added.

From 1930 the Takarasiennes stopped using the whiteface makeup that is traditional in Kabuki, replacing it with Euro-American stage makeup. By this time actors were divided into those who play male roles (otokoyaku 男役 ‘man role’) and those who play female roles (musumeyaku 娘役 ‘girl or daughter role’).

From 1932 otokoyaku started to cut their hair short (previously they had their hair long and hid it under hats), take on a more masculine role in the classroom, and speak in the masculine genderlect. Mizunoe Takiko of the Shochiku Opera Company, is said to be first to do this, and was quickly copied by the Takarazuka otokoyaku This became another scandal.

1933 The fourth troupe “Star” was added.

In 1934 Takarazuka opened a second theatre in Tokyo.

1935 January: A fire breaks out backstage at the Takarazuka Grand Theater, damaging it. The repairs take three months.

In a editorial, Kobayashi Ichizō expressed concern about scandals in the press, and quoted a letter he had sent to Ashihara Kuniko, one of his leading otokoyaku. He asked Ashihara to make sure that new students understood that they were not to behave manly offstage, and not to use manly words for each other such as aniki (elder brother), boku (a male self reference) or kimi (a masculine form of ‘you’). Ashihara was regularly called aniki by fans. Kobayashi also quoted Ashihara‘s reply (likely written by himself) where he was assured that otokoyaku were just ordinary girls who practised the tea ceremony and flower arrangements when offstage.

As the Japanese military spread across China, Korea and Manchukuo, mobile units from the Takarazuka Revue were dispatched to factories, farms, hospitals and war fronts to provide civilians and soldiers with wholesome entertainment.

1938 A Takarazuka Revue tour of Germany, Italy and Poland. They were in Berlin during Kristallnacht.

1939 A tour of US.

Due to the war situation, the Star troupe was disbanded.

In August the Osaka prefecture banned the Takarazuka Revue “the acme of offensiveness”. However it was the only prefectural government to do so.

In 1940 otokoyaku were forbidden to answer fan mail or to socialise with audience members. Also that year the term ‘shōjo’ was removed from the Revue’s name as the performers continued to age - it also opened up the possibility of including male performers. There was an extra "Special Course" that was used for older performers (40 and up) who did not wish to retire yet.

Kobayashi was Minister of Commerce and Industry July 1940-April 1941, and led a failed mission to the Dutch East Indies to obtain more oil. As director of the Takarazuka Revue, he colluded with the government to put on shows that reified the traditional ‘good wife, wise mother’ stereotype. A typical show at this time was Legends of Virtuous Japanese Women. Takarasiennes were assigned to patriotic women’s associations, and charged with entertaining troops, farm workers and the war wounded. Kobayashi introduced a khaki-coloured uniform so that they would fit in with the rest of the population.

In 1941 a wartime ruling forbad the otokoyaku from dressing as men; there was no corresponding ruling that onnagata should not dress as women.

7-8th December 1941 Japanese forces attacked Thailand, Dutch East Indies, the UK colonies of Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya, and the US colonies of the Philippines and Hawai’i. Following this the Takarazuka Revues were refocused on patriotic and war time themes.

1943 March the Takarazuka Dai Gekijō (Grand Theatre) was taken over by the Japanese navy and used as a barracks. The final show was "The Battle of Tsubasa". As a result many of the performers went to work in factories or the fields while a handful toured around the country doing performances. In May-July there was a second tour of occupied China.

1944 March: Performances at the Tokyo Takarazuka theater were suspended for the duration.

1945 August Japan surrendered after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 1945 Kobayashi was appointed a cabinet minister in the immediate post-war government, and was president of the War Damage Rehabilitation Institute. However he was purged because of his wartime career - a ban that lasted until 1951.

The Takarazuka boys 
In 1945 the home theatre in Takarazuka was reopened, and the next year male performers were
recruited and employed for the second time. They were trained separately from the female members. Ultimately, however, the female members opposed this innovation, and the last male performer left in 1954.

December The Tokyo Takarazuka theater was taken by the US army and renamed the Ernie Pyle Theater for entertainments for their troops.

1946 April the Takarazuka Dai Gekijō (Grand Theatre) was reopened and performances restarted.

1948 The Star Troupe was reinstated.

1953 James Michener’s novel, Sayonara: A Japanese-American Love Story, featured a US officer falling in love with a Takarazuka musumeyaku.

1954 The movie Madama Butterfly was being filmed in Italy. Members of the Revue were flown out to perform in it.

The theatre in Tokyo was returned and reopened in 1955.

1955, 1956, 1957 Performance in the Hawai’i Sakura Festival

Kobayashi Ichizō died in 1957.

1958 February: A fire broke out at the Tokyo Takarazuka theater and 3 people died.

April: Hiromi Katsuki 香月弘美 was killed during a performance at the Takarazuka Grand Theater when her costume was caught in the mechanics of the lift following the end of a scene.

1959 tour of Canada and US.

Robertson p79

1964 Takarazuka begins airing a weekly show on Fuji TV

1965 European Tour: 33 performances in Paris.

1966 Kō Nishiki described self as an otokoyaku close to being feminine, but also threatened to resign if forced to appear as a woman onstage. Increasingly in this period, the otokoyaku were encouraged to blend genders and be more androgynous. Some otokoyaku were cast in female roles - to their consternation, and despite their protests. Gō Chigusa remarked that on the few occasions of playing a woman, the fans complained of a resultant malaise (kimochi warui) in that the familiar became strange.

1974 Takarazuka Revue dramatized The Rose of Versailles (Berusaiyu no Bar ベルサイユのばら) based on the 1972-3 manga. It is a fantasy about 18th century France in which the fictional Oscar François de Jarjayes is a female raised as a man who is the protector of Marie Antoinette before joining the Revolution. It has been revived multiple times since. The show's role in Takarazuka history is particularly notable as it triggered a significant surge in the revue's popularity and established its "Top Star" system of assigning lead roles. From 1974 to 1976, all four Takarazuka troupes staged The Rose of Versailles, drawing a total audience of 1.6 million; the revue's 1986 staging alone drew an audience of 2.1 million.

The 1979 film Lady Oscar, based on the The Rose of Versailles, starred the English actor Catriona MacColl - rather than an otokoyaku - and her feminine portrayal was criticized for its lack of androgyny.

The 1977 Takarazuka musical version of Gone with the Wind (Kaze to Tomo ni Sarinu 風と共に去りぬ) was noteworthy because - for the first time since the 1930s - some of the otokoyaku were allowed to wear facial hair. The musumeyaku (players of daughter role) had been agitating for more dramatic female roles (and to be referred to as onnayaku - female role, rather than daughter role). In response the directors came up with Scarlett O’Hara, but to the chagrin of the onnayaku, they cast an otokoyaku as Scarlett O’Hara. In addition both whiteface and blackface were used to indicate the race of characters.

Otokoyaku Matsu Akira (松 あきら) retired from Takarazuka Revue in 1982 after ten years of playing male roles, and found that she was unable to adapt to playing female roles. She became a member of the Kanagawa Prefecture House of Councillors in 1995, and was re-elected in 2001 and 2007.

Daichi Mao ((大地 真央) played male leads (Marius, James Dean, Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, Sky Masterton in Guys and Dolls) on the Takarazuka Revue, but quit in 1985 and became an actress (female roles) on stage and screen.

In 1985 the Takarazuka Revue presented Androgyny (Andorojenii テンダー・グリーン / アンドロジェニー) in which otokoyaku played both “neutral boys (nyutoraru boi)” in glittery jumpsuits and colourful wigs, and female masculine persons such as George Sands.

1987 Kobayashi Kohei 小林公平, the grandson of Ichizo, became president of the Takarazuka Music School .

1993 The Takarazuka Grand Theater was rebuilt.

1994 Dream Girls, a 50 minute UK documentary about the Takarazuka Kagekidan.

1995 January: The Takarazuka Grand Theater was heavily damaged during an earthquake. It was quickly fixed.

1997 The Tokyo Theater was closed in order to be rebuilt.

2001 Sky Stage, Takarazuka`s dedicated satellite channel began broadcasting. The new Tokyo Grand Theater opened.

  • Dorrell McGowan & Stuart McGowan (dir & scr). Tokyo File 212. US 84 mins 1951. An espionage story set in Tokyo during the Korean War, with a brief glimpse of the Takarazuka Revue.

  • James Michener. Sayonara: A Japanese-American Love Story. Random House, 1953.

  • Carmine Gallone (dir). Madama Butterfly. Scr: Carmine Gallone & Iwao Mori, with members of the Takarazuka Kagekidan. Italy 114 mins 1954.

  • Jacques Demy (dir). Lady Oscar. Scr: Patricia Louisianna Knop based on Riyoko Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles, with Catriona MacColl as Oscar François de Jarjayes. Japan/France 124 mins 1979.

  • Kim Longinotto & Jano Williams (dir). Dream Girls. With the Takarazuka Kagekidan. UK 50 mins 1994.

  • Jennifer Robinson. Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan. University of California Oress, 1998.

  • Laurence Senelick. “Schoolgirl crushes” in The Changing Room: Sex Drag and Theatre. Routledge, 2000: 340-5.

  • Robert B Stinnett. Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. The Free Press, 2000: 57-9. (on Kobayashi as minister and his mission to the Dutch East Indies)

  • Pamela Karantonis. “Takarazuka is burning: music theatre and the performance of sexual and gender identities in modern Japan”. Studies in Musical Theatre, 1,2, 2007.

  • Jessica Hester. “Japanese Women/American Men: National Identities and the Takarazuka Revue” in Kevin J Wetmore, Jr. Portrayals of Americans on the World Stage: Critical Essays. McFarland & Co, Inc, 2009: 191-200.

  • Yamanashi Makiko. A History of the Takarazuka Revue Since 1914: Modernity, Girls’ Culture, Japan Pop. Global Oriental, 2012.

  • Root. “Takarazuka Charm ~ The Appeal Of Women As Men”. Roots of Thought, 11 Mar 2012. Online.

EN.Wikipedia(Takarazuka Review) Official Takarazuka Revue Site IMDB(Takarazuka Kagekidan) Takarazuke Revue Timeline.


Jennifer Robinson p73:

“Knowledge of past precedents and of the early, varied reception of the Takarazuka Revue is necessary to fully recognize the significance of the contemporary experiments with androgyny. The Revue continues both to uphold the dominant ideal of heterosexuality and to inform a lesbian subcultural style. In this connection, the sexual tension that has marked Takarazuka from the start still frustrates the paternalistic management.”

It is the normal practice in China, Japan and Hungary to put the family name first followed by the personal name. In English language writings this practice is almost always followed for China. Thus Mao Zedong not Zedung Mao. For Hungary the opposite is done and names are almost always reversed. Thus Orbán Viktor Mihály is referred to as Viktor Mihály Orbán. The problem with English language writings about Japan is a lack of consistency. Some writers put the family name first and some put it last. Japanese persons do complain about the latter. It is not always obvious what a given writer is doing unless you recognise some names or know enough Japanese to distinguish family names from personal names. I have attempted to follow the Japanese practice by putting family names first - however I have probably got one or two wrong.