Takarazuka Revue keeps evolving, takes on challenges

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Sakina Ayakaze, left, and Kiwa Asazuki play the lead characters in the Takarazuka Revue’s Snow Troupe production of “City Hunter” at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The Takarazuka Revue Company all-women theater group is going through some major changes this year. Two of its five troupes now have new lead couples, and the latest productions by the company are showing a daring side.

Each of the five troupes — Flower, Moon, Snow, Star and Cosmos — has two top stars in principle: one male-role performer and one female-role specialist, who play the lead characters in all the productions given by the troupe. When they change, it is a very important event for devotees. This year, the Snow Troupe and Moon Troupe welcomed new star pairs. This marked the first time since 2012 that at least two troupes made such significant changes in the same year.

The No. 1 couple of the Snow Troupe changed from Futo Nozomi and Kiho Maaya, both competent singers, to Sakina Ayakaze and Kiwa Asazuki, both excellent dancers. In the song and dance revue “Fire Fever!” currently staged at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, they are dancing beautifully together in duets. The new star couple of the Moon Troupe, Kanato Tsukishiro and Mitsuki Umino, paired with each other on a number of occasions even before being appointed the top positions. They are reputed for having a very good chemistry and mature acting skills.

Two other troupes have had changes in the female-role leads, which means four troupes now have new top female-role stars.

In 2012, when No. 1 star pairs changed in three troupes, the company was preparing for its centennial in 2014. Considering the situation back then, the drastic changes this year can be seen as a strategic move toward the 110th anniversary in three years.

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Rei Yuzuka, center, performs with Madoka Hoshikaze, left, Sea Towaki, back left, and Maito Minami, right, during a press conference announcing the production of “The Fascination!” by the Takarazuka Revue Company’s Flower Troupe in Tokyo.

Usually, each troupe’s No. 2 male-role star is expected to succeed the top male-role star. However, No. 2 star Kazuya Seto of the Flower Troupe left the company in July and the Star Troupe’s No. 2 Hikaru Aizuki will depart in December.

In addition to the five troupes, the company also has the Senka (Superior Members) group consisting mostly of veteran specialists in singing, acting and dancing. This year has seen a major change in Senka as well. Yu Todoroki, a former top male-role star of the Snow Troupe who moved to Senka in 2002, departed the company on Oct. 1. She used to be called the top of the top stars of Takarazuka. Three lesser star performers were also transferred to the Senka group after being with the company for only around 15 years, which was also surprising.

“Changes are inevitable with Takarazuka,” said theater journalist Chiaki Nakamoto. “There were no member transfers last year due to the pandemic. That’s why I have a feeling that we are seeing a two-year load of transfers this year.”

Asked about the No. 2 stars leaving and recent moves with the Senka group, Nakamoto said: “Not everyone can reach the top [of each troupe]. In this regard, it is important to make the company more attractive by giving more opportunities to stars who don’t reach the top position and letting them leave in style. Some fans, though, may have mixed feelings.”

The company has adopted a wide range of subjects into its stage productions and has again put on shows that stand out with creative twists.

The most talked-about new productions this autumn are “City Hunter,” which is based on the popular manga of the same title by Tsukasa Hojo, and “Yagyu Ninpocho” (The Yagyu Ninja Scrolls), which is based on a novel by Futaro Yamada. Since both works are very popular among men, adapting them into Takarazuka plays might seem daring because the audience is mostly women.

“I think the company is trying to attract new male fans, of course, but both stories are about male protagonists with good ol’ manliness,” Nakamoto said. “[The productions] made me realize that they are probably better suited to be played by male-role Takarazuka performers.”

At Takarazuka, the directors belonging to the company write scripts and direct the productions by themselves in principle, although the system is not without fault.

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Kenshi Koba

“Above all, the company needs to improve the production competence. It also has to think how to increase directors who can both write scripts and direct the shows. It also needs to figure out how to be more adventurous while keeping to the restrictions of the star hierarchy system of the troupes,” Nakamoto said. “I think that the popularity of Takarazuka is at its pinnacle right now in its history of 107 years, which is a result of the company’s tireless efforts to take on new challenges.”

Last year, the pandemic forced the company to stop performances for about four months. Currently, the company puts on shows while taking thorough infection control measures, although there are still concerns that the shows may be canceled on any day. If Takarazuka is to reach the 110th anniversary without trouble and maintain its popularity for years to come, the company will need to be aggressive all the time.

Troupe system’s centennial

This year marks the 100th year since the company introduced the troupe system. The first troupes the company had were the Flower Troupe and the Moon Troupe. Flowers are the theme for the Flower Troupe’s new song and dance show “The Fascination!” that will premiere on Nov. 6 at the Takarazuka Grand Theater in Hyogo Prefecture. The production celebrates the centenary of the troupe and features some of the most popular scenes from revues performed by the troupe.

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During a press conference in September announcing the production of the show, the company revealed some of the music. At the beginning of the presser, Rei Yuzuka, the troupe’s current No. 1 male-role star, entered while singing the show’s theme song. She was then joined by the troupe’s top female-role star, Madoka Hoshikaze, as well as other stars Maito Minami and Sea Towaki. They sang and danced in beautiful formations, creating a brilliant atmosphere. They also sang “Kokoro no Tsubasa” (Wings of the heart), a long-loved song sung by troupe members.

“The Fascination!” is part of a double bill with “Genroku Baroque Rock,” which is a fantasy-like adaptation of the famous kabuki play “Chushingura.”

“We Flower Troupe members give our best to create the productions,” Yuzuka said at the press conference.

The company’s new chairman, Kenshi Koba, who assumed the post in April, said, “I’d like to draw more power and energy from everyone involved in the Takarazuka Revue and use them to create even better productions.”