Death of Takarazuka Revue Member: Irresponsible Organizational Culture Invited Tragedy

A tragedy has occurred at a musical theater company with a history of over 100 years and many fans. Behind this terrible situation is the irresponsible nature of the company, which left preparatory work for performances up to its members.

The theater company must review its management system and make every possible effort to prevent a recurrence.

On Nov. 14, the all-female Takarazuka Revue released an investigative report compiled by outside lawyers into the death of a 25-year-old woman who belonged to the company’s Cosmos Troupe. At a press conference, Chairman Kenshi Koba apologized to the bereaved relatives, saying, “I apologize for not being able to protect a precious member of your family.”

The woman was found dead on the premises of her apartment complex in September. Police believe she committed suicide.

The report noted that just prior to her death, the woman was under the heavy burden of teaching younger members for a rookie performance. There were only two instructors, including the woman, and the theater company did not provide adequate support.

In addition to her own rehearsals, the woman was also receiving many requests from senior members in her role as an instructor. Takarazuka Revue said it will work to improve the overloaded performance schedules and reduce instructors’ workload, but it bears a heavy responsibility for failing to understand the plight of its members and for passing burdens along to members on the front line.

Hankyu Corp., which operates Takarazuka Revue, and other parties also cannot escape criticism for failing to play their proper role.

In February, the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported that the woman had been bullied by senior members of the company.

In response, the report concluded that “no bullying or power harassment by senior members has been confirmed.” The bereaved family members are not convinced by the results of the investigation, and the problem is likely to continue to linger.

Takarazuka Revue members work under an outsourcing contract, and this woman was also one such “freelancer.”

Unlike company employees, who are directly employed by those businesses, freelancers are essentially able to work at their own discretion. They are often not covered by labor laws and regulations, and companies and others that place orders with them are not obligated to take their safety into consideration.

Under her contract, the woman was required to participate in training and work to improve herself, among other things, and one of the lawyers for the bereaved family claims that “it was in effect a labor contract.”

According to the lawyers, the woman worked 437 hours in the month immediately prior to her death, 277 of which fell into the category of overtime work, beyond the scheduled working hours. This incident is likely to affect how freelancers work and labor legislation as well.

All Takarazuka Revue members are graduates of the Takarazuka Music School, and they are known for their strict hierarchical relationships. This tragedy may also have been impacted by the fact that an abnormal situation has been allowed to prevail in a closed world. The company will need to shed its old culture and be reborn into an organization in keeping with current times.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 15, 2023)