HYOGO PREFECTURE, Japan - A top star's farewell, or "graduation" in the world of the Takarazuka Revue Company, is a perennial yet special event for the company and its fans.
Another top star will call it quits this year, amid the all-female company's 100th anniversary.
"I want to leave with a big smile on my face," said Kazuho So, the top star of the company's Snow Troupe, or Yuki-gumi-one of the five Takarazuka Revue troupes.
So is currently starring in a double bill: the musical play "Ichimuanfuryuki: Maeda Keiji" and the revue "My Dream Takarazuka," which will mark her final appearances at the Takarazuka Grand Theater in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. Her robust performance shines as bright as the sun, filled with the joy of being on stage and gratitude to those around her.
Maeda Keiji, the central character of the musical, is a feudal lord who has much in common with So: free and mischievous but faithful to his own beliefs and strongly protective of those he loves. So wanted to play the historical figure after reading the novel the musical was based on.
"At his core, he's a samurai, but at the same time he's also a flamboyant fashionista. That's his charm. I'd like to be like him in my life as a thespian. I want to have strong fundamentals and also convey my own qualities on stage," So said.
Maeda is at odds with his uncle, Maeda Toshiie, and adores Matsu, his uncle's wife, played by Ayu Manaka. With his horse Matsukaze, he races through the turbulent years, thinking that if he dies he will do so gracefully, like a falling cherry blossom.
At the end of the revue that follows the musical, the song "Legend Tanjo" (The birth of the legend) with words by lyricist Yoko Aki adds colour to So's farewell production.
She says the song's recurring phrases, "Tsuite kite kurete arigato" (Thank you for following me) and "Soba ni ite kurete arigato" (Thank you for staying by me), express her own sincere feelings, which she wants to tell her fans and fellow performers.
"This song makes it possible for me to pour out myself without exaggeration and beyond the frame of otokoyaku [male role performer] Kazuho So," she said.
Against the backdrop of snow crystals, the whole troupe sings and dances in white costumes. The music is cheerful-a fitting finale for So.
During the rehearsal period, So said she would not be emotional just because it was going to be her last work with the company. "I thought crying wouldn't solve anything," she said.
So was viewed as the next big star at the company shortly after her debut, but it took her 16 years to reach the top position. Even during hard times, she stayed positive and opened the way for herself. That's why she became a star loved by fans and gained the respect of her juniors at the company.
As one of the company's leading figures in its 100th anniversary year, So will face her last performance with the company feeling fulfilled.
"At the event commemorating the 100th anniversary, I performed with the retired members of the company and received a lot of energy from them. I feel like they taught me there are more things I can do," So said.
"I'd like to aim even higher and continue making an effort right until the final day," she added.
"Ichimuanfuryuki: Maeda Keiji" and "My Dream Takarazuka" will be staged at the Takarazuka Grand Theater in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, until July 14. The double bill will be staged at Tokyo Takarazuka Theater in Hibiya, Tokyo, from Aug. 1 to 31. For more information, visit http://kageki.hankyu.co.jp.