sábado, 9 de agosto de 2008

Takarazuka Revue: still a fantasy for teens

"Actress Hitomi Kuroki took her first air trip in her final year in high school. She traveled alone from her native Fukuoka to Osaka. The purpose of the trip was take entrance exams at Takarazuka Music School (TMS), a premier training ground for aspiring Takarazuka revue starlets. She had the blessing of her parents, who had decided their daughter could at least give it a try before she left high school.

According to her book "Watashi ga Naku Toki" (When I weep) from Gentosha Inc., Kuroki herself knew at the time that she would get over her infatuation with TMS once she saw how out of place she would be there. And she recalls that when her flight was taking off, Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" (The Destiny) was playing on the in-flight music channel she was tuned to.

Kuroki passed the exams, which put her among an extremely talented minority. There are preparatory schools for TMS, where intensive singing and dancing courses are offered. Girls aged 15-18 are eligible for enrollment at TMS, but since competition to get in is so severe--only 1 in 20 succeeds--many girls fail the entrance exams and eventually quit.

But TMS is overhauling its entrance tests next spring. It will do away with the compulsory singing and ballet tests, and the preliminary test will be in interview form to evaluate the candidates' looks and "star quality." In the follow-up test, the candidates will be judged on their singing and ballet, but the focus will be on whether they have basic abilities.

According to TMS, the overhaul is aimed to throw the doors open wider. Girls who have been thoroughly trained in the "entrance exam technique" are certainly skilled, but they all tend to look the same, down to their hairstyles. Rather than attracting only these cookie-cutter candidates, the school would like amateurs to try out so that truly unique talents might be discovered.

I recently visited a prep school in Tokyo, where black leotard-clad girls were undergoing intensive training despite the summer holiday season. The school's director, a former Takarazuka revue member, noted: "People talk about discovering diamonds in the rough, but you can't really spot a future superstar from among total novices. If TMS wants to attract more candidates, a quicker way would be to get more high school girls to see Takarazuka shows on their school trips."

TMS's motto is "Kiyoku Tadashiku Utsukushiku," which translates as "with purity, righteousness and beauty." But the school is better known for the rigid discipline it expects of its students during their two years there.

Numerous paths are available today for young people aspiring to show business careers, but about 1,000 teen girls still keep knocking on TMS's heavily guarded doors.

Seen from the outside, Takarazuka's legendary status appears to be quite intact, but I suppose people inside think differently.

The bigger the fantasy, the more work it seems to require to maintain it."

The Asahi Shinbun - 28/07/2008