The Broader Picture: All singing, all dancing, all girls

THE Takarazuka company's newly opened show at the London Coliseum begins with a long and indigestible sequence of pseudo-traditional Japanese scenes - a Mikado without the story or the jokes. But the revue really takes off in Part Two, with 'This Side of the Door', an adaptation of an O Henry story set in America before the war. The girls of Takarazuka only come into their own when they put on dinner jackets and bow-ties and patent leather shoes, when they sport quiffs and sharp little sideburns and strut and pose with their melting, hyper-feminine partners.

With the film Go Fish opening in the same week, lesbianism is all the rage, but looking for an erotic subtext in Takarazuka is like looking for paedophilia in Alice in Wonderland. 'Pure, righteous and beautiful' is the company's motto, and no one's tongue was in their cheek when they coined it. Whatever the eye of the beholder may bring to Takarazuka (which continues at the Coliseum until 23 July), the eye of the beheld is innocent.

The company was created 80 years ago, in 1914, by a clever businessman called Ichizo Kobayashi who built a private suburban railway line from central Osaka to a spa town called Takarazuka and then racked his brains for ways to persuade people to use it. The theatre company was part of his strategy: shows throughout the day at low prices, introducing to an enormous new audience the western-style entertainment that until then had only been seen by the wealthy elite.

But why only girls? The explanations are unsatisfactory, but it proved a brilliant gimmick. The company's success has endured because its work has an odd but powerful resonance. It harks back to the transformations of the single-sex Kabuki companies, but at the same time it does something different: it is an extended enactment of how one culture adapts to another.

The first Kabuki troupes in the 16th century were all-female. When they were banned, because the actresses had degenerated into prostitutes, all-male troupes sprang up in their place, and have survived down to the present. The best Kabuki female impersonators are celebrated for playing women in a platonic, perfect way, distillations of Japanese femininity, considered to be more beautiful than the real thing because they are not onnakusai - they don't have the metaphorical 'smell' of real women.

The otokoyaku or male impersonators of Takarazuka not only represent another sex but another culture, too. When a Japanese woman impersonates an American man, she undergoes a double transformation. And by adopting the clothes, hair-style, body language and behaviour of the American man, she provides a vivid metaphor for what Japan as a nation has been striving to achieve during the past century.

Japan as self-perceived is small, weak, sensitive, cultured, fastidious, well-brought-up: a girl. The West, which barged in with Commodore Perry's black ships in 1853, was big, strong, aggressive, boorish: a man. To survive, Japan had to take on the attributes of the West: the soft girl had to impersonate the tough man. When Mira Anju, top star of the company, shimmies across the stage in her white trilby, truculent and stylish, with a gossamer-thin display of impudent bravado, she is the latest in a line of stars who have captivated Japanese audiences by their (unconscious) encapsulation of Japan's modern endeavour.

The result has the poignancy - despite the beaming smiles and flashing eyes - of all such role-playing. Of its very nature it must fall short. Mira Anju will never be Frank Sinatra in his youthful prime. This stage of black-suited non-men, with their little round heads and highlighted quiffs and cheeky grins, belongs in some limbo that never existed anywhere. 'Very third millennium,' someone said on the way out.

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits