Gender Acrobatics: The Questionable Liberalism of Popular Culture and the Emergence of Alternative Masculinity Patterns in Late-modern Japan
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This paper focuses on the skillfully designed and highly merchandised figure of the otokoyaku – that is, the female impersonator of male roles in Takarazuka Revue, a hugely popular musical theatre in Japan, which celebrated its centennial in 2014. Takarazuka Revue’s version of Gone with the Wind (officially inspired by Margaret Mitchell’s novel, but in fact heavily relying on its film adaptation from 1938) is taken as an example of the ways in which producers of popular culture promote patterns of gender and race. The ambivalence of otokoyaku embodies both the struggles of masculinity as an ongoing project of defining the self in its own core identity and the fantasies of feminine power as a field of desire, resistance and negotiation in the modern world – Japan included. Premiered in 1977 and subsequently staged repeatedly over the next decades due to its unexpected box-office success, Takarazuka Revue’s Gone with the Wind displays Japanese visions on love, family, historical heritage, gender roles and race hierarchies, thus transcending its American origins. It employs the otokoyaku in both main characters, the makeup and outfit visually highlighting Rhett Butler’s idealised masculinity, on the one hand, and simultaneously reinforcing Scarlett O’Hara’s ‘failed femininity’, on the other hand. In light of current discourses on ‘herbivore men’ (sôshoku[kei] danshi) and the loss of ‘masculinity’ in late-modern Japan, Takarazuka Revue version of Gone with the Wind from 2013 is critically observed, in the pursuit for answers to the question whether otokoyaku’s highly stylised stature is a symbol or a symptom of the process of a fading ‘white obsession’ and the emergence of a ‘masculinity of self-sufficiency’ occurring currently worldwide.
- Takarazuka Revue adopted elements such as ginkyô (the silver bridge), the cross gender representation, and the concept of a “total art-work” from Kabuki and Richard Wagner’s “Gesamtkunstwerk” (Ortolani 1995:273, Robertson 1998a:29, 1998b:292).
- It appears among other cross-gender phenomena in late-modern Japan, such as the TV personality Matsuko Deluxe (prompting Japanese citizens to talk about “men, women and Matsuko Deluxe”) and a great part of the visual-kei movement (boys-bands dressed up as women in glamorous rococo outfits, with glittering makeup and extravagant hairstyles).
- The Takarazuka Revue follows a special business model in comparison to regular mainstream media, relying heavily on a pre-established fan community with specific experiences and expectations, rather than pursuing endless growth and innovation through expansion and conquering new audiences and areas of artistic expression (Iwahori 1972:56-87).
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