Short Takarazuka ReviewsThese are very brief reviews of performances I've seen - usually on video, although a few I've seen in the theater. As always, this is purely personal opinion - I've talked to people who've disagreed with pretty much anything I say below. :)
80th Anniversary Daiundoukai
All Troupes 1994
Starring: Pretty much everyone in Takarazuka at the time
In honor of their 80th anniversary, Takarazuka decided to celebrate by... having a "Grand Sports Meet"! What else? (They did it again for the 90th anniversary.) All the troupes (only four plus senka back then), the music school students, and even the Tomonokai (official Takarazuka fanclub) had the chance to prove their worth in a huge stadium, in front of a huge audience. The video shows each troupe planning their grand entrance (Two actually spelling their troupe name in marching human kanji - I shall never be impressed by English-language marching band efforts ever again), doing test runs to decide on athletes, and then competing on the big day itself. Events include the 100 yard dash, relay, obstacle course, tug-of-war, and the slightly more esoteric "quick costume change" and "ringing a bell while blindfolded" events that I'm fairly certain are not relegated by Olympic officials. Despite the silliness, everyone seems quite eager to win, and I'll admit to a certain sense of pride in hearing the announcer shout, "Ayabuki Mao wa hayai! Ayabuki Mao wa hayai!" Only a first year troupe member, and my Yumiko's already the best...
Adieu Takarazuka 1000 Days
All Troupes 2000
Starring: Aika Mire, Ootori Rei, Makoto Tsubasa, Dan Rei, Todoroki Yuu, Tsukikage Hitomi, Minoru Kou, Hoshino Yuri, Wao Youka, Hanafusa Mari
This special show to mark the closing of the temporary 1000 Days Theater is best for those already familiar with Takarazuka. There are no stage sets, no costumes, no plot – just a series of singing numbers and funny MCs featuring all of the then top stars and members of senka. My favorite moment is Kouju Tatsuki's intro song - very cute. Warning: This show features a very somber Wao Youka, who looks constantly ready to burst into tears. If you get the DVD version, you can set your angle options in many scenes to stay in close-up of Wao and watch her make a brave face of the whole event. Ouch!
Age of Innocence
Cosmos Troupe 2002
Starring: Tsubaki Hiroka, Fuzuki Miyo, Miwa Asahi, Ryoga Haruhi, Hayama Riki
This play is adapted from the book by Edith Warton. It tells the story of Newland Archer, happily engaged to his fiancée May – until May's cousin, the unhappily married Ellen Olenska, returns to New York. More than a typical love-triangle, it's the story of the struggle between following a traditional, socially-acceptable life and the new "modern" lifestyle beginning in the 1870's. I first saw this Bow Hall show in the theater, where I quite enjoyed it. Although it's dialogue-heavy, and was hard for me to follow, the presence of the actors held me in thrall – Fuzuki Miyo (Ellen) and Miwa Asahi (May) are both amazing actresses. The first act dragged a bit, but the emotional punch of the second kept me on the edge of my seat. And Hayama Riki sang a solo number so beautifully it almost brought tears to my eyes. Later, watching it on video, the play lost the power it held in the theater and I found myself bored and at times confused by the seemingly never-ending talking. Definitely a show only for those with strong Japanese skills.
Ai no Sonata
Moon Troupe 2001
Starring: Makoto Tsubasa, Dan Rei, Shibuki Jun
I'm told this light play is based on the opera "Der Rosenkaval." It was also Makoto Tsubasa's last performance as top star before retiring from Takarazuka. Octavian (Makoto Tsubasa) is the secret lover of a rather important married woman. When her nephew Ochs (Shibuki) arrives unexpectedly to announce his plans to propose to young Sophie (Dan) for her money, Octavian must disguise himself as a woman to avoid discovery. Naturally, Ochs immediately becomes entranced by the pretty young "Mariandel." And naturally, Ochs get Octavian (as Octavian... Try to keep up...) to act as go-between with him and Sophie... Whom Octavian promptly falls in love with. Could this be anything but Moon Troupe? Makoto is, of course, hilarious and intense by turns, Dan is pretty and sweet (if under-utilized) and Shibuki is... a complete and total fop. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
Ai to Seishun no Takarazuka (Takarazuka of Love and Springtime)
TV Drama 2001
(Some guest appearances, but all non-Takarazuka cast)
An interesting story of Takarazuka life in the 1940's, I found the information that could be gleaned about the values behind Takarazuka just as (if not more) interesting than the plot. We follow the life of several Snow Troupe girls from the years just before World War II, through the war (and the closing of the theater), to the first days of peace. In the meantime they experience love, loss, American bomb raids, and government censorship (Revues are forbidden). They also get to meet a very young Osamu Tezuka (Future "God of Manga"). The acting is uneven from several performers (not uncommon on Japanese television) and no crash-course can make a j-drama actress a convincing otokoyaku, but the show is entertaining and has occasional moments of depth.
"Applause" Elisabeth (Best Of Collection)
Snow, Star, and Cosmos Troupes 1996 and 1999
Starring: Ichiro Maki, Hanafusa Mari, Asaji Saki, Shiraki Ayaka, Shizuki Asato
It's hard for me to judge this DVD, because it was the first time I saw Takarazuka. The DVD is a mix of musical numbers from the Snow, Star, and Cosmos troupe productions of Elisabeth. It also has some scenes from the shinjin-kouens for these three shows. It's a good video to get if you already know the plot of Elisabeth and want to see a little bit from the different productions. If you already own one or more versions of Elisabeth, it's probably not worth your while.
Asaki Yume Mishi/The Beauties
Flower Troupe 2000
Starring: Aika Mire, Ootori Rei, Takumi Hibiki, Iori Naoka
"Asaki Yume Mishi" ("Lived in a Dream") is a lovely retelling of the Heian era novel "The Tale of Genji." As period pieces go, I found this pretty accessible – although, in this case, I was quite familiar with the source material. The plot covers major points from the later life of Hikaru Genji - played to genteel and earnest perfection by Aika Mire - a notorious womanizer whose unhappiness stems from the early events of his life. The costumes for this show are particularly gorgeous. "The Beauties" is a highly enjoyable "standard" revue, complete with tuxedos and feathery costumes. I'm particularly attached to the series of hard-rock numbers.
Asaki Yume Mishi (TV Movie)
Flower Troupe 2000
Starring: Aika Mire, Ootori Rei, Takumi Hibiki
This TV movie was made to coincide with the "Asaki Yume Mishi" play - as well as the 1000 year anniversary of "Tale of Genji." The movie is beautifully filmed and looks like a live-action shoujo manga - complete with flying flower blossoms and dramatic camera angles. I was less crazy about the plot, which covers the early part of Genji's life (in contrast to the play, which picks up roughly where the movie leaves off.) Somehow, somewhere in the production offices, "Heian Court Drama" was lost and "Fantasy/Action" was brought on board. Genji's plotting stepmother? Now she's an evil sorcerous who uses magical butterflies to murder his mother. Worse, the imperfect young Genji who got into amusing and embarrassing situations with young ladies is gone - the new Genji is as infallible as he is boring. Still, seeing the ultra-talented members of Flower Troupe is always a joy. The movie is amusing, beautiful - and a grating experience for this "Genji" fan.
Flower Troupe 1997
Maya Miki, Sen Hosachi, Haruno Sumire, Asami Hikaru, Ootori Rei
Being possibly one of only three people on earth not completely in thrall to Maya Miki, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. The story was very silly - Alex (Maya Miki), photographer by day and jewel thief by night, meets princess-in-disguise Sandra (Sen Hosachi). Through various hijinks the two fall in love while he tries to steal her family's ancestral tiara. Maya's role was, of course, a charmer. Sen had a typical bland musumeyaku love-interest, but was charming throughout. A quite young Haruno Sumire seemed to be struggling with just how despicable her character was supposed to be as Sandra's fiance, while Ootori Rei nearly stole the show in her few plot-crucial scenes as a kidnapped maid. If you like classic comedic silliness, you'll probably enjoy this.
Flower Troupe 2001
Takumi Hibiki, Ootori Rei, Haruno Sumire, Sena Jun
This is one of my favorite Takarazuka shows, and I've done a long review of it in the past. Takumi Hibiki plays Vim, a young demon taking his final exam in hopes of graduating from Demon School. His task turns out to be be making Ajani (Ootori Rei) completely unhappy. This proves difficult because Ajani - a young homeless woman with no friends and a brusque personality - is already miserable. So Vim hits on a plan: He will guide Ajani into becoming happy, and THEN make her unhappy. Takumi is charming as always, in her very first role as top star, and her ability to emote is in its usual fine form. But Ootori's Ajani is the real show-stopper, given this is Takarazuka, and the complexity of her character and her decisions is what makes this one of my favorite shows. Haruno and Toono are a bit wasted in their roles as priest & nun/announcers, while Ayabuki Mao is working hard at gruff detective. Sena Jun is charming as Vim's demon sidekick and Yashiro has a small but enjoyable part as Vim's teacher. Ranju Tomu, however, may be my favorite non-lead in this show, in her role as a street ruffian who gets on Vim's bad side.
Department Store/Arch of Triumph
Snow Troupe 2000
Starring: Todoroki Yuu, Tsukikage Hitomi, Kouju Tatsuki, Shiokaze Kou
I love “Department Store” and I seem to be just about the only one! The very loose plot of this show involves the employees of a department store under poor management, and how with the help of elevator girl Janet and her new boyfriend Flex, the dreary store is transformed into a wonderland of mass consumerism. Highlights include the zombie sales-team (lead by a very funny Shiokaze Kou) stalking Flex and the store manager being mugged by a group of unemployed gang members (with a rap lead by Aran Kei, Asami Hikaru, and Naruse Kouki, who are absolutely ridiculous in long curly black wigs and black trench coats!) In comparison, “Arch of Triumph” ("Gaisenmon") is a completely different kind of show – a serious play about refugees in WWII era Paris, this tragic tale follows Ravic, a German surgeon obsessed with revenging himself on the Gestapo leader that tortured him and killed his girlfriend, and his new love Joan, a seemingly bright young actress. The music matches the show, Todoroki Yuu is incredible (She actually won an acting award for this role) and Tsukikage Hitomi plays the difficult role of Joan with perfect subtlety. One of my absolute favorite productions!
Arch of Triumph (Yakukawari Version)
Snow Troupe 2000
Starring: Asami Hikaru, Kisaki Miri , Aran Kei, Naruse Kouki
Similar to a shinjin-kouen, this "yakukawari" ("switched roles") version of "Arch of Triumph" features three younger troupe members in the lead. Asami Hikaru has a younger, more earnest, – but no less convincing - take on the character of Ravic than Todoroki Yuu. Kisaki Miri is an uneven Joan, Aran Kei a solid Boris, and Naruse Kouki unfortunately ends up with a more boring role than she had in the regular version of the play (changing from traitorous Markus to the dull Dr. Veber.)
Daikaizoku ("Great Pirates")/Jazzmania
Moon Troupe 2001
Starring: Shibuki Jun, Emi Kurara, Hatsukaze Midori, Kozuki Wataru, Iori Naoka
This was the first main theater show for top combo Shibuki Jun and Emi Kurara. It was also the first show I got to see live! “Great Pirates” is a cute play, though the plot is nothing revolutionary: Spanish Emilio (Shibuki Jun) becomes a pirate after his family is killed by nasty British privateers. Whilst waylaying a ship, he runs across Elaine (Emi Kurara) and the two share a romantic moment. But – Oh no! Can it be true? – Elaine is the younger sister of the very man who killed his parents (Kozuki Wataru)! The plot holds few surprises, but the staging is enjoyable and the play is fun to watch – even if we all know where it's going. Hatsukaze Midori doesn't have a part in the play, but she shows up in “Jazzmania” to sing for us. This review has catchy numbers and great dancing - Pirates and Jazz in one three hour package, what more could you ask for?
Cosmos Troupe 1999
Starring: Shizuki Asato, Hanafusa Mari, Wao Youka, Kozuki Wataru, Asami Hikaru
This play tells the life of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, presenting her as quite literally having a lifelong love affair with Death (der Tod). Shizuki Asato has a colder take on this character than other stars I've seen, but there's no competing with her incredible voice. Hanafusa Mari is marvelous in her second time playing Elisabeth herself and Kozuki Wataru is a wonderfully snide Lucheni. Wao Youka has some nice moments, particularly in the first act, but overall seems bored and dissatisfied with the role of Franz Joseph. Also impressive is Asami Hikaru as Rudolph, creating an absolutely incredible version of "Yami ga Hirogaru" with Shizuki's Tod. An excellent production.
Flower Troupe 2003
Starring: Haruno Sumire, Ootori Rei, Sakiho Juri, Sena Jun, Ayabuki Mao
In my opinion, the best overall Takarazuka production of Elisabeth. Other productions had better points, but Flower Troupe manages to keep its production solid throughout and at some moments amazingly compelling. Haruno Sumire is still pretty new as top star, but she holds the stage wonderfully as der Tod and her voice is beautiful and powerful. Ootori Rei controls her singing voice much better than usual and plays Elisabeth with either grace and dignity or a compelling depth of desperation as called for. Sakiho Juri is my favorite Franz Joseph – I like her gentle and sincere take on the character. Personally, I thought Sena Jun could have done better as Lucheni – she was absolutely fine, but I've come to expect a greatness and originality from her that I didn't see here. Of course, I loved seeing my favorite Ayabuki Mao as Rudolph – her best scene was definitely "Boku wa Mama no Kagami Dakara."
Moon Troupe 2005
Starring: Ayaki Nao, Sena Jun, Hatsukaze Midori, Kiriya Hiromu, Oozora Yuhi
The last troupe to perform "Elisabeth" is Moon Troupe and Sena Jun is the first otokoyaku to play Elisabeth. I wasn't crazy about the idea of taking this great role away from a musumeyaku, but Sena is a solid Elisabeth. Ayaki Nao has never been one of my favorite performers (sorry) and though her Death has some good moments, it's overall too passionless for my taste. Hatsukaze Midori is a fine Franz Joseph, but didn't have the tenderness that I enjoyed so much from Sakiho Juri in Flower Troupe. As for Kiriya as Lucheni... Absolutely fabulous! She has the perfect snide humor in this role. I also quite enjoyed Oozora as Rudolph. She had a solid, stronger take on the character than some other performers have, almost seeming to fight back against Death during "Yami ga Hirogaru." Although this is a quality production, my lack of interest in the way the three main characters were portrayed means that it still isn't my favorite.
Star Troupe 1996
Starring: Asaji Saki, Shiraki Ayaka, Minoru Kou, Shibuki Jun, Emao Yuu
Probably the Takarazuka production of “Elisabeth” that causes the widest range of opinions. These are pretty much centered on top star Asaji Saki and I won't repeat some of the things I've heard here. Asaji's strength is her passionate acting and her Death is very humanlike in his desperate love for Elisabeth. Admittedly, her singing voice is poor. Personally, I really enjoy Asaji's portrayal and find her performance style very compelling. Shiraki Ayaka is a strong Elisabeth throughout; her take on the character has more of a slightly evolving dignity than the transformation from mischievous girl to empress that other actresses have used. Minoru Kou is stronger in the second half than the first (the opposite of Wao Youka from Cosmos, IMHO), Shibuki Jun is clever and slimy but not my favorite Lucheni, nor is Emao Yuu my favorite Rudolph. Also keep an eye out for future top-stars Kozuki Wataru (Top otokoyaku Star Troupe) as a revolutionary and Tsukikage Hitomi (Top musumeyaku Snow Troupe) as Young Rudolph. On a completely unrelated note, this show has my favorite costumes of the Takarazuka "Elisabeth" productions (Check out Asaji's pirate shirt at the revolutionary restaurant. I want one!) This is a worthy production of “Elisabeth” but it has highs and lows. When it's good it's wonderful, but it doesn't hit that peak quite as often as Cosmos and Flower troupes.
Ernest in Love
Moon Troupe, 2005
Starring: Sena Jun, Ayano Kanami, Hiromu Kiriya, Shirosaki Ai
Adorable and hilarious version of an American musical based on Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" - this is a very light comedy of the “mistaken identity” variety. There's fun, catchy numbers, and just enough twists to keep things interesting, plus all the actresses are right on. New tops Sena Jun and Ayano Kanami are a great match (as if there was any doubt), sparkling with both humor and top-combi chemistry. Hiromu Kiriya is, of course, hilarious, and Shirosaki Ai a promising young musumeyaku. A must see if you like Moon Troupe comedies!
Fumetsu no Toge (Immortal Thorns)
Flower Troupe 2003
Haruno Sumire, Fuzuki Miyo, Sena Jun, Ayabuki Mao, Toono Asuka
This play never quite came together for me, and I'm not sure why. It certainly seemed to have all the stylistic bits that would appeal to me (many angst-ridden characters, interesting stage design, etc) but at the end, I was just sort of, "Wait.. what was that again?" The story is about Errol (Haruno Sumire) a man made immortal by a potion created by his father. He was in love with a young woman named Frida (Fuzuki Miyo) and then later meets up with her great-something-or-other granddaughter. There is a rock concert. There is something involving papers. I didn't find either Haruno's or Fuzuki's (who I usually love) characters very interesting, so I just kept waiting for Ayabuki Mao and Toono Asuka to come back on as a brother and sister whose family has something Errol wants... Ayabuki in particular was brilliant as drunken, angst-ridden Hans, and clearly put a lot of effort into the part.
Star Troupe 2003
Starring: Aran Kei, Shiomi Maho, Kanou Chika, Hizuki Hana
They just love to give Touko the Nihonmono (old-fashioned Japanese) plays, don't they? This is a (by necessity fictionalized, as few details are known) story of the life of Sasaki Kojiro, a samurai famous for his use of the nodachi and his duel with Miyamoto Musashi (known even to gaijin as the author of “The Book of Five Rings”). Overall, I found this play both easier to follow and better written than some other nihon-mono I've watched. In a lot of ways this was typical. Music: Enjoyable but forgettable. Plotline: Tangled. Characters: A brooding hero, perky (yet tormented!) heroine, and a dizzying variety of side characters. Yet it came together quite well – not in the way of the few truly great Takarazuka written plays, but the way the simply enjoyable ones do. Aran, of course, was born for melodrama, just as Shiomi was born to portray bullies. Kanou Chika failed to impress me, while Hizuki Hana (who I didn't appreciate in "Singin' in the Rain") was quite moving. I was also particularly struck by Ayaka Rei as Yoshioka Seijuro.
Gekijou: Jose to Carmen/The Revue '99
Cosmos Troupe 1999
Starring: Shizuki Asato, Hanafusa Mari, Wao Youka, Kozuki Wataru
(Okay, the name is technically "A Violent Passion: Jose and Carmen " but everyone calls it "Jose and Carmen" or just "Carmen.") Takarazuka's take on the “Carmen” opera, this production has some rather racy moments (by Takarazuka standards – get your mind out of the gutter!) Unlike some Takarazuka originals, this play has great music and Shizuki Asato has just the voice to show it off. Hanafusa Mari displays her acting chops once more as the wild-at-heart gypsy Carmen. Don't get confused with Wao Youka – she plays both the narrator and Carmen's jealous lover. With such a strong play, I would have let it stand on its own without a revue, but The Revue '99 is a solid show, though it doesn't have those scenes I just have to watch over and over again like “Gekijou” does.
Ghost at Midnight
Snow Troupe 1997
Starring: Todoroki Yuu, Hanafusa Mari, Wao Youka, Aran Kei
A pretty predictable, but overall enjoyable, play. The story is about TV reporter Mari (yes, that's her name in the play) and her TV crew, who go to film at a haunted castle in Scotland. It turns out that Mari's pendant is a memento of the ghost of the castle (Todoroki), and he appears and tells the story of him and his lost love (an evil younger brother and the Crimean war are involved). Mari and her crew must then find out what happened to his love, so that the pendant can be returned to her. The special "ghost" effects (strobe lights, mainly) were fun to watch, but equally fun was watching Hanafusa and Wao spending so much stage time together several years before they were paired as top stars.
Guys and Dolls
Moon Troupe 2002
Starring: Shibuki Jun, Emi Kurara, Yamato Yuuga, Kiriya Hiromu
No one does comedy like Moon troupe. This revival of the fun and silly Broadway musical "Guys and Dolls" is a blast from beginning to end – and I can say that in all honesty, having seen it seven times in the theater and a number of times on video. Shibuki Jun does great comedy and as Sky Masterson she makes free with her wild takes and physical humor. Emi Kurara has clearly hit her stride as top musumeyaku, and plays Sara straight-and-narrow as she should be. Yamato Yuuga is charming as Nathan Detroit, but the real stunner is otokoyaku Kiriya Hiromu, camping it up to perfection as nightclub singer and 14-year-fiancee Adelaide. Unlike many otokoyaku in female roles, Kiriya keeps her movements and voice from going too "masculine" – in fact her singing is the best in the troupe. Also in fine form are Oozora Yuhi as the chipper Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Shiomi Maho as single-minded mobster Big Jule. Best of all, there's not a troupe member that doesn't seem to be having a good time on stage. Another of my favorites!
Guys and Dolls (Shinjin-koen)
Moon Troupe 2002
Starring: Tsukifune Sarara, Shirosaki Ai, Hokusho Kairi, Shijo Rui
In the shinjin-kouen ("rookie show") version of Guys and Dolls, young Tsukifune Sarara, who played one of Nathan's sidekicks in the regular version, gets to take the lead. I was excited to see her in a big role, since she was often hilarious onstage when I was in Tokyo – pulling such stunts as sticking a flower up her nose or pretending to find things on the stage floor. But Tsukifune seems tense in the role of Sky, never quite loosening up and going with the role. On the other hand, Hokusho Kairi is an exuberant Nathan Detroit – funnier than Yamato Yuuga at times - and Shijo Rui is a very bubbly "blonde" Adelaide, in sharp contrast to Kiriya Hiromu's take on the character. On the downside, only the first act and the final scene of the second were performed, probably to keep from overwhelming the young players. This means we miss some of "Guys and Dolls" best moments from Act Two! (BTW, if you get the "Guys and Dolls" DVD, it comes with all the musical numbers from the shinjin-kouen on the bonus disk – you don't need to buy this tape.)
Star Troupe 2000
Starring: Aran Kei, Akisono Mio, Yumeki Noa, Matobu Sei
This play is an exceedingly loose interpretation of the story of Ishikawa Goemon, a legendary Japanese thief. The play begins with Ishikawa (Aran), his wife Hatsune (Akisono), and some friends escaping from their ninja clan. They are pursued by Saizo (Yumeki), who develops a particular grudge against Ishikawa when, during the fighting, Ishikawa gives him a facial injury, which becomes a bad scar. It may not seem fair to say this, since I couldn't always follow the details, but the plot seemed a bit slap-dash to me. It jumped from thing to thing, and though characters talked about Ishikawa as an infamous bandit, I never saw him do a lot more than wander around, looking unhappy, talking about how people died because of him and how a new world was coming. Of the songs, only the main theme was memorable. Aran was gorgeous of course, and she can drag emotion out of a scene by her teeth if she has to. Yumeki does a glorious villain, making me wanna cry all over again over her too-early retirement. And Akisono was fan-tab-ulous, particularly in the second act where she proved she can sing like an angel (If only she wasn't retired too *sigh*). Also quite good, though not mentioned in the cast list, was a young Emi Kurara (later top musumeyaku of Moon Troupe).
Snow Troupe 1997
Starring: Aran Kei, Aida Megu, Shiomi Maho, Takashiro Kei, Dan Rei
Well, it's hard for me NOT to like a show featuring my favorite star Aran Kei. :) This is one of the shows that made me love her. A combination of the mythological story of Icarus and "The Little Prince," this play tells the tale of the boy who fell from the sky and the lives he touches. Aran plays a charming and earnest boy and her musumeyaku partner Aida as Rosey is sweet without becoming week or annoying. Also charming is Ayabuki Mao, in a small role before moving to Flower Troupe – the first time I ever saw her.
Itetsuita Ashita: Bonnie & Clyde
Snow Troupe 1998
Starring: Kouju Tatsuki, Tsukikage Hitomi, Aran Kei, Shiomi Maho
A slightly fictionalized version of the story of Bonnie & Clyde, the plotline of this play stresses the emotional lives of the pair – both their struggles in love, and their yearning for something better in their lives. Kouju Tatsuki portrays Clyde as a man slowly finding himself drawn more and more to the dark places inside, yet stumbling to keep his connection to his old life, while Tsukikage Hitomi for once gets the chance to show off the full range of her talent; her Bonnie is feminine, but hard-edged. The still young Aran Kei and Shiomi Maho are also already showing their unique talent. A fine Bow Hall play.
Kohaku no Ame ni Nurete/Cocktail
Flower Troupe 2002
Starring: Takumi Hibiki, Ootori Rei, Haruno Sumire, Toono Asuka, Sena Jun
"Kohaku" has a fairly standard Takarazuka plot: Claude (Takumi Hibiki) is engaged to Francois (Tono Asuka), but he falls in love with Sharon (Ootori Rei). Gigolo Louis (Haruno Sumire) is also in love with Sharon. The plot centers on the double “love triangle” and Claude’s inability to choose between being “responsible” and marrying Francois, and following his heart in pursuit of Sharon. Frankly, I hated this play the first time I saw it (which was live in the theater, with the special "Charlie is sick" bumping up of the cast). I found most of the characters shallow and selfish, and had no sympathy for anyone but Francois. Now my opinion has changed a bit. Although this still isn't one of my favorite plays, I would say it's worth watching. As for “Cocktail,” this revue is fun. The scenes in the revue are supposed to represent various types of alcoholic beverages. Highlights include Haruno's basketball "Tequila" number, Takumi and Sena's very passionate "drink of love" scene, and a sultry performance of "Business of Love" by Yabuki Shou, Kaede Saki, and Suzukake Miyuki. I personally have a hard time getting through the "Charlie's Bar" scenes without crying, but that's for personal fannish reasons. Charlie-saaaaan!!!!! *weep*
La Esperanza/Takarazuka Maimu!
Flower Troupe 2004
Starring: Haruno Sumire, Fuzuki Miyo, Natsuki Mizu, Kiriya Hiromu
“La Esperanza” is one of those plays that seems to have been created by the Instant-Takarazuka-Plot-Generator: Argentina. Characters with weird names. Tango dancing. Guilt. A “spunky” heroine with practically no personality. I kept waiting for the gigolos to show up – don't these shows always have gigolos?? OTOH, there's the fact that both the main characters are obsessed with penguins. Huh?? But, this was actually pretty cute. The whole penguin thing worked well in the dialogue and I really enjoyed the music– I don't often find Takarazuka-written plays to have very catchy themes, but I liked the “Penguin no Yume” song and “La Esperanza” wasn't bad either. “Takarazuka Maimu!” has a theme of Greek mythology, which I didn't really expect them to take too seriously. But, no! This revue has a plot (sort of)! And consistent characters (sort of)! Highlights include the Trojan war… in less than 10 minutes… set to Latin music. I also loved Fuzuki Miyo as Hera and Touno Asuka as Aphrodite, in the approximately four minutes each that they got to spend on stage.
Star Troupe 2003
Starring: Aran Kei, Akisono Mio, Ayame Hikaru, Koto Marie, Minami Mari
This is Aran Kei's second dinner show (A dinner show is like a special little concert for one star) and the first available on video. Aran being the crooner that she is, it's one song after another – no dances or little skits for her! As backup she has four musumeyaku from Star troupe, and they do some fun MCs and musical numbers. The best part was songs from Aran's Bow Hall play "Hanafubuki Koifubuki," with Aran getting into a character a bit and emoting beautifully. In other parts of the show she seemed at times stiff and nervous, perhaps opening night jitters. A mixed bag, but a must for Aran Kei fans.
Luna/Blue Moon Blue
Moon Troupe 2000
Starring: Makoto Tsubasa, Dan Rei, Shibuki Jun, Hatsukaze Midori
In the recent tradition of fun comedies from Moon Troupe, the play "Luna" is a cute bauble of a show. Makoto Tsubasa is insanely popular rock star Alex, who falls for unimpressed archaeologist Eileen (Dan Rei). An accident at some ruins causes Alex to be posessed by the spirit of a powerful Moon Prince, who then confuses Eileen with his own lost love. Not complicated enough yet? That's why Shibuki Jun is the evil corporate leader - among whose many nefarious plots are kidnapping Yamato Yuuga and brainwashing her character into believing he's Elvis. Oh, and did I mention the hordes of beauty contestents? And the life-size stand-up Makoto Tsubasa with hand-waving action? And the mini-scooter? Things get no more normal for the revue. Blue Moon Blue features both Indian dieties AND disco numbers (complete with afros with combs stuck in them). And then there's the bunny girls. And the soldiers in camo. Hear that? It's your brain just... letting go.
Flower Troupe 2001
Starring: Aika Mire, Ootori Rei, Takumi Hibiki, Sakiho Juri
This was the last show for top star Aika Mire, which makes it particularly disappointing. The plot of Michelangelo manages to be both sparse and hard to follow (it involves the historical artist Michelangelo, a quasi-romance with a woman of the Medici family, some unfortunate students, and impressively large reproductions of his major sculptures), and while Aika can make any role seem genuine and likeable, she has little to work with. Meanwhile,Takumi pours her considerable charisma into her scenes, seemingly determined to make the play enjoyable by sheer force of her powerful eyes - and as long as she's on stage, it sometimes works. Luckily, Viva! comes along to save us from this mess of a play, with a tasteful mix of typical numbers. The sparklies were sparse, which is a bit unnerving once you've come to expect them. My favorite part was Haruno Sumire, Sena Jun, and Ayano Kanami (all future top stars) in a piece about a violin maker, a demon, and an "angel."
Snow Troupe 2000
Starring: Kouju Tatsuki
This Dinner Show for Kouju Tatsuki was performed not long before she left Snow Troupe for senka. This was a pretty song-heavy show – and Tartan sounded great. She sang a variety of songs, in a variety of styles, including Latin numbers, a "Hokkaido Medley" (Sung enka style!) and a “Takarazuka Medley.” Throughout, she was the usual Tartan – friendly, cheerful, and with that high girly speaking voice when out of character that contrasts so cutely with her otokoyaku persona. I didn't catch the names of all her musumeyaku back-up, but they included Konno Mahiru, later top star of Snow Troupe. The tape was short, only an hour, so be prepared.
Flower Troupe 2004
Starring: Ayabuki Mao, Toono Asuka, Yabuki Shou, Aine Harei, Kashiro Kiho
This Bow Hall play stars two of my favorite performers. Set in the 1950's, it tells the story of Billy “The Famous” (Ayabuki Mao), the most infamous muck-raking photographer in New York. When he takes a picture of popular movie star Daisy Miller (Touno Asuka) entering a swank restaurant with mob-boss William Wilson (Yabuki Shou) , he gets more than he bargained for. The next day, Daisy herself shows up with a job offer for him: find the man in the photograph she provides, with no other information than his name. Aside from a great cast, this play featured wonderful writing, and held together like a piece of film noir - the plot moved along quickly, leaving the initial mystery behind even before intermission.
Niji no Natasha/La Jeunesse!
Snow Troupe 1996
Starring: Takane Fubuki, Hanafusa Mari, Todoroki Yuu, Wao Youka
The charming play "Niji no Natasha" ("Natasha of Rainbows") is based on the manga of the same name. It tells the story of a young girl raised in Hong Kong, who turns out to be the daughter of a Japanese diplomat and a Russian opera singer. A natural opera talent herself, Natasha is reclaimed by her father's family and struggles with adapting to life in Japan. Hanafusa Mari is in fine form as usual, faking bad, rough, masculine Japanese and an inability to wear a kimono. Takane Fubuki is good as the fiancé of Natasha's half-sister, who discovers Natasha in Hong Kong and brings her "home," although considering how few shows Takane got as top star, we could have hoped for a better role for her. This is a fine play, except that it doesn't really end – it only stops. The manga itself wasn't complete when the play was produced, so the writers just let the ending hang. "Le Jeunesse!" is a standard revue – fun fluff to watch, but nothing to change your life.
Cosmos Troupe 2004
Starring: Wao Youka, Hanafusa Mari, Sakiho Juri, Aran Kei
"Phantom" is an American musical based on the book, "The Phantom of the Opera" - its just not the musical most people know. It takes some interesting turns, while still keeping most of the famous plot points. This is a beautifully staged production, and most of the actors are spot on. Christine is a "doormat" character, but Hanafusa does her best and pulls together a beautiful performance, particularly for the climax. Meanwhile, Wao's Phantom seems far too kind-hearted to be running around killing people - partly the script, and partly her interpretation. Sakiho does a fine job as Carriere, convincing as an older gentleman despite the lack of appropriate make-up. Sadly, when everyone else was so wonderful, Aran Kei (who I adore) seemed to be just going through the motions. My absolute favorite performer in the show was Izumo Aya as mean-spiritied opera diva Carlotta - absolutely thrilling. I could watch her sing "This Place is Mine" all night long. :)
The Prague Spring/Lucky Star!
Star Troupe 2002
Starring: Kouju Tatsuki, Aki Nagisa, Ayaki Nao, Aran Kei, Yumeki Noa
This play's story involves the end of the "Prague Spring" – a brief period when a fair amount of freedom was allowed in communist-era Czechoslovakia – by military intervention. The story is based on a Japanese novel by the same name, and includes characters both fictional and nonfictional. Horie Ryosuke (Kouju Tatsuki) is a Japanese diplomat who falls in love with Kathlena Greve (Nagisa Aki) an anti-communist, who is being investigated – more like stalked – by Hess (Yumeki Noa) of the Stasi. I enjoy these "heavy" plays, and though the characters have less depth than in "Arch of Triumph," it's more action-oriented. "Lucky Star" theoretically covers a theme of stars, and luck, etc. – if you didn't know that, you wouldn't notice. One of those kind of revues. There are good scenes for all the major otokoyaku, some good spots for the musumeyaku, light numbers, dark numbers, just plain old songs, a bar scene with gigolos, a Latin number, a line dance – the whole Takarazuka range, all in one hour. Star Troupe in this period was blessed with strong singers and dramatic actresses, and it shows in both the play and the revue.
Rose of Versailles: Oscar and Andre
Flower Troupe 1975
Starring: Anna Jun, Hatsukaze Jun, Haruna Yuri
Watching one of the earliest productions of BeruBara was an interesting chance to see how little has changed in the last 30 years - at least as far as this show is concerned. Even the make-up is remarkably similar today. Anna Jun is a beautiful Oscar, with a lovely voice and strong acting. Hatsukaze Jun (as Marie Antoinette) has an almost operatic voice. I was less impressed by Haruna Yuri, who wasn't bad, but failed to interest me. I was far more impressed by the musumeyaku playing Rosalie (I don't know what her name was), who expressed emotion simply and charmingly and held my attention every time she came on stage.
Rose of Versailles 2001 – Fersen and Marie Antoinette Version
Cosmos Troupe 2001
Starring: Wao Youka, Hanafusa Mari, Ayaki Nao, Mizu Natsuki
This play makes the mistake of concentrating on the characters of Fersen and Marie Antoinette, rather than the more popular Oscar and Andre characters from the manga. With Oscar and Andre missing, the second act loses some steam – although it ends magnificently, thanks in large part to the brilliant Hanafusa Mari as Marie Antoinette. Wao Youka is at her most gentlemanly as Fersen, but Hanafusa is the real star. Mizu Natsuki and Ayaki Nao shine in their relatively small roles as Andre and Oscar. The main theme songs are enjoyable, but in other places the music drags – along with the plot, at times – making this show a very mixed bag, although a must for fans of any of the above performers.
Singing in the Rain (“Ame ni Utaeba”)
Star Troupe 2003
Starring: Aran Kei, Yamato Yuuga, Matobu Sei, Hizuki Hana
This was a special performance held at the Nissei theater and featured Aran Kei, guest star Yamato Yuuga on loan from Cosmos Troupe, and a selection of junior troupe members. Both Aran and Yamato are great, though even I'll (reluctantly) admit that Aran's no Gene Kelly. Otokoyaku Matobu Sei plays an impressively high-pitched and annoying Lina. Hizuki Hana is a perfectly acceptable Cathy, though she's just too young of a performer to give the role much punch. The staging is almost a play-by-play of the movie, complete with (very funny!) silent movies on screen and actual water for the “Singing in the Rain” number. The movie itself has never been my favorite musical, but this is a great production.
A Song for Kingdoms (Based on the opera “Aida”)
Star Troupe 2003
Starring: Kozuki Wataru, Dan Rei, Aran Kei, Shiomi Maho
Most English-language Takarazuka fans just call this show "Aida," though it's in no way related to the Broadway musical that's also based on the opera. I know little of the opera, but I enjoyed this story of doomed love set in ancient Egypt. Both Kozuki Wataru and Dan Rei are a bit upstaged by Aran Kei, who's playing her first real female role as Aida. Kozuki is still charming as the standard “honorable man torn between duty and love” Radames and Dan Rei is incredible as Princess Amneris – showing us exactly why it is she's top star again after her “break” in senka. Dan's voice is better than ever and Aran does an overall solid soprano in spite of her otokoyaku training, but I wasn't personally all that crazy about the music in this show. Still, good acting and a good plot, so I recommend it.
Takarazuka Paris Festival 2001
Star Troupe 2001
Starring: Aran Kei, Yumeki Noa, Asazumi Kei, Matobu Sei
Very brief (an hour and fifteen minutes), this is basically an Aran Kei dinner show in disguise. Aran sings the vast majority of the numbers, mostly "Chanson" style. Yumeki gets a couple numbers, and Asazumi and Matobu share a couple, but really they're just backup for Aran. My favorite song was a doo-wop version of "Sumire no Hana Saku Goro". Few of the other numbers stood out. This is a show that's entertaining to watch once, but I l felt unsatisfied and wished there'd been something more to it.
Takarazuka Revue 80th Anniversary London Show International Tour
Misc. Troupe Members 1994
This video is a combination of a short documentary on the anniversary show held in London, and a "digest" of scenes from the show itself. The show itself seems pretty typical Takarazuka – a traditional Japanese show, a modern play, and a short revue – but the most interesting part is the footage of preparing for the tour and traveling to London. Particularly fun is watching future big stars in their younger days. Only of interest if you're a fan of this era of Takarazuka or particularly enjoy Takarazuka documentaries.
A Tale of Two Cities
Flower Troupe 2003
Sena Jun, Sakurano Ayane, Ayabuki Mao
As my main complaint about Takarazuka's previous version of Tale of Two Cities (with Daichi Mao) was that it was too rushed, I was glad to see the same show re-staged as a two-act. This version definitely does a better job dealing with some of the motivation and timing. Based on the book by Charles Dickens, the story follows Sydney Carton (Sena Jun), a brilliant but degenerate lawyer, and his love for Lucie Manette (Sakurano Ayane), the beautiful daughter of a man previously held prisoner in the Bastille. The story is most famous for its depiction of the French Terror. I enjoyed Sena's take on this character, though it was perhaps not quite equal to Daichi's. Sakurano, OTOH, I felt was a bit young for her part, and not able to express more than her character's surface-level sweetness. Ayabuki was at her earnest best as Charles Darnay, Lucie's noble, upstanding suitor, of unfortunate French aristocratic background. Also in fine form were Ritsu Tomomi as the Manette's lawyer and Misa Noeru as Dr. Manette, Lucie's father.
TCA Special 2000 "King of Revue"
Starring: Aika Mire, Ootori Rei, Makoto Tsubasa, Dan Rei, Todoroki Yuu, Tsukikage Hitomi, Wao Youka, Hanafusa Mari
One of the most enjoyable TCA Specials, this show is entirely made up of the classic work of longtime Takarazuka writer Shirai Testuzou - although presentation is sometimes updated. There's the usual array of glittery solos and group numbers, plus some very cute skits. But really, there's only one thing I took away from this Special: The kogal scene. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, there's no way I can express it to you.
TCA Special 2001
Starring: Aika Mire, Ootori Rei, Makoto Tsubasa, Dan Rei, Minoru Kou, Hoshino Yuri, Wao Youka, Hanafusa Mari
This may be my all-round favorite TCA Special, probably because I enjoy skits and plot-driven pieces more than straight-up glittery songs. The company did a survey asking which role (that they'd never performed) people would most like to see the top otokoyaku in, and then each performed a scene as that character. For Aika it was Meiji-era hero Okita Soji, for Minoru, Rudolph from "Utakata no Koi", for Wao, Oscar from "Rose of Versailles," and for Makoto, Death from "Elisabeth." Playing their female opposites were otokoyaku from other troupes. The pieces were nicely presented, complete with supporting cast and scenery. All the tops were great, but Wao in particular made a beautiful Oscar. The only downside to the show is that there was absolutely nothing for the top musumeyaku to do except a few group numbers, in what can't help but feel like a rather pointed snub.
Ten no Tsuzumi ("Drum of Heaven")
Flower Troupe 2004
Starring: Haruno Sumire, Fuzuki Miyo, Ayabuki Mao, Toono Asuka
A Theater Drama City production, this nicely done Heian era piece feels like it's based on a myth. Nijihito (Haruno Sumire) was found as a baby, the only clue to his origin the drum found with him. Although young Ibuki (Touno Asuka) is secretly in love with him, he falls in love with a mysterious woman he sees playing the flute outside one night (Fuzuki Miyo) - who later proves to be the fiancee of his best friend! Things only worsen when the emperor (Ayabuki Mao), becomes obsessed with getting his hands on Nijihito’s drum – which he is convinced is the magical “Drum of Heaven.” Takarazuka always does a beautiful job with period pieces, Heian era in particular, and this is no exception. The characters are drawn with broad strokes and the music is nice but unmemorable, but the staging and the actors are so charming that I never felt dissatisfied while watching it.
The Wonder Three
Snow Troupe 1999
Starring: Asami Hikaru, Aran Kei, Naruse Kouki
This “Bow Workshop” is basically a concert featuring the (then) three young stars from Snow troupe. There are a lot of joint numbers, and each star also gets her own “corner” where she performs along her own theme of choice – Jazz for Naruse, Latin for Asami, and Chanson for Aran. A fun show if you're a fan of any of these three and of the time when they were all together in Snow troupe.
Documentary 1993 (?)
Starring: Snow Troupe, particularly Kouju Tatsuki
A Japanese language documentary, "Yume no Shiro" ("Castle of Dreams") starts out by discussing the music school, moves on to general troupe make-up and ranking... and then becomes intensly interesting as it follows the assignment of roles and the positions of troupe members. As the youngest of the up-and-coming Snow Troupe "seconds" at the time, Kouju Tatsuki gets particular attention - company officials assign her the lead in a shinjin-koen and the film documents her efforts as she prepares to take the lead for one night. I was very moved watch the young Tartan - who I'm used to seeing as a serene and seemingly unflappable upperclassman - clearly fighting very hard to get it right and barely keeping her nerves under control.