Shakespeares Recreated for Japanese Popular Culture


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Shakespeares Recreated for Japanese Popular Culture:

Shôjo Manga, Takarazuka and Twelfth Night1


1. Introduction: ‘Mobile Shakespeares’
In October 1998 Teichiku Records Co. Ltd. released a CD of King Lear: A Comedy performed by Teikoku Kagekidan [the Imperial Revue Company]. This Lear, in which the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream also play key roles, makes frequent references to other Shakespeare’s plays, as if this comedy were written so as merely to make a jumble of quotations from his plays.2 It would have been extraordinary if a CD of such a Shakespearean adaptation should commercially pay off, unless this CD had been one of the derivative products developed across the media from a popular video game Sakura Taisen [Sakura’s Great War].3 In short, this comedy version of Lear is performed by the fictitious Imperial Revue Company of the video game. The CD’s liner notes, printed in the form of a special edition of a newspaper, pretend to justify its drastic rendering by stating that a comic adaptation of King Lear was often staged in the past in Europe, whilst also carrying an introductory article on Shakespeare and his plays as well as a favourable review of its ‘stage performance’. Yet ironically enough, in spite of [or because of ] the famous picture of Shakespeare and the repeated admirations of him in the liner notes, Shakespeare becomes more like one of the fictitious playwrights who supply plays and revues to this imaginary troupe.

This Shakespearean adaptation was produced only to cater for the fandom of the video game, thus giving the Bard less than secondary significance. Hence fidelity to Shakespeare’s texts, though in Japanese translation, is the last thing to be expected of this King Lear. While this revue company interpolates and stages Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, it does not intend nor need to legitimize itself through Shakespearean performance. (What does a fictitious company need such legitimization for?) ‘Shakespeare’ is just one of familiar signifiers to be appropriated.4 In other words, ‘Sakura Taisen’ that consists of several sequels to the original videogame is something similar to what is known as sekai or the world in kabuki in that Sakura Taisen is a constellation of figures acting out crucial events. And all the game-related derivatives fabricated across the media are equivalent to ideas for new kabuki plays known as shukô. In the world of Sakura Taisen, ‘Shakespeare’ is reduced merely to an idea to be exploited to create another derivative.5

Douglas Lanier defines one of the shared features of the contemporary Shakespearean films as the ‘radical mobility’ or ‘the capacity of Shakespeare’s writing to transcend the particularities of his chosen medium,’ and this holds true with this Lear on CD and other Shakespearean recreations in Japan.6 If the language is not necessarily ‘an essential element’ of Shakespeare, or if there is something essentially Shakespearean other than the language, foreign Shakespeare will no longer be regarded as secondary to their Anglophone counterparts.7 Increased further by a variety of Japanese translations and radical recreations, the mobility of ‘Shakespeare’ has led to inter-medium proliferation of ‘mobile Shakespeares’ or ‘Shakespeares’ that move across the media, languages and cultures.8 In short, as is the case with the King Lear on CD, Shakespeare is repackaged, circulated and consumed in various forms across the media in the manner of what Alan Liu called ‘the churning of literary capital’.9

This essay aims to consider two Twelfth Nights recreated on the page of shôjo manga [comics or graphic novels for girls] and on the stage of Takarazuka Revue Company.10 The first part of this essay will discuss Morikawa Kumi’s shôjo manga version of Twelfth Night (1978) so as to illuminate the ways the imagination of shôjo manga remake ‘Shakespeare’, the no longer foreign but still unfamiliar cultural icon of the West, when his play (already circulating in Japanese translation) is re-translated into the graphic and verbal languages of shôjo manga. One of the recurrent themes in shôjo manga is a heroine’s gender-bending, but this there is generally acknowledged to have originated from the world of the all-female Takarzuka Revue Company. As is well represented by the Company’s phenomenal successes in producing stage adaptations of The Rose of Versailles, the graphic novels for girls overlap with the theatrical world of the Takarazuka Revue Company in the signification of female bodies imagined on page and stage respectively.11 The latter half of this essay will treat Epiphany, an adaptation of Twelfth Night, with which the Company concluded its first Shakespeare Season in 1999. Transferred to the backstage of kabuki towards the end of the 19th century, Shakespearean comedy becomes an arena where the past and the present, the western and the domestic, elite and popular cultures, and authentic and inauthentic Shakespeares meet each other. Just as the comedy version of King Lear makes sense as part of sekai or the world of Sakura Taisen, the meanings and cultural values of these ‘mobile Shakespeares’ are determined according to the media and situations into which they are translated.

2. Shôjo Manga, Shakespeare and Literary Values
It is generally acknowledged that the mid 1970s was the golden age for shôjo manga with the rise of some talented female artists, whose works achieved a critical literary acclaim.12 Shôjo manga, which originally started as a subgenre of manga (for boys), technically matured and developed its own grammar and idioms to accommodate to high cultural/literary values in the mid-70s, and also their readers accordngly matured to appreciate such ‘literary’ qualities of these manga. However, shôjo-manga Shakespeare is still one of the controversial ‘Shakespeares,’ being not quite licensed nor valued by a community of literary readers, in spite of certain recognitions of shôjo manga’s cultural values. This chapter considers Morikawa Kumi’s Twelfth Night published in 1978, the year when shôjo manga had almost completed its process of upward cultural mobility.

Yamada Tomoko, an independent researcher of manga, points out that ‘Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is really like a typical shôjo manga in that it features identical twins and the twin’s gender-bending.’ She also maintained that ‘Morikawa Kumi, being very conscious of shôjo manga’s conventions and grammar, must have chosen Twelfth Night for her Shakespearean adaptation because of the elements the comedy shares with many shôjo manga.13 Yamada’s perceptive comments afford a key to an understanding of this Shakespearean manga. Before going on to discuss Morikawa’s use of the verbal and graphic languages in her Twelfth Night, it will be necessary to provide some explanations about the recurrent motifs in shôjo manga, and then to demonstrate the affinities between Twelfth Night and the graphic novels for girls.

As shôjo manga have repeatedly featured the themes of heroines’ second self or double from the beginning of its history, twins and gender-bending have accordingly become two of the distinctive features by the early 1970s. The association of these two features with shôjo manga started with one of the earliest and most influential shôjo manga, Ribon no Kishi [literally, ‘A Knight of Ribbons’] known as Princess Knight in English. This graphic novel with a clear narrative structure was serialized in a girl’s magazine Shôjo Club from 1953 to 56 and immediately gained such an enormous popularity that it was adapted as a radio drama and a ballet. Princess Knight centres around a girl called ‘Prince’ Sapphire who is raised as a male in order to secure her right of succession against her malicious relatives and maintain the state’s peace. Disguised in male attire, Sapphire enjoys freedom denied to a girl and is also forced to fight against evil forces, whilst she also wears female attire and a blonde wig in private to be a ‘girl with the flaxen hair.’ Sapphire gets deeply distressed by the division of the self when she learns Prince Charming that she fancies loves the ‘flaxen-haired girl’ but she cannot tell him her feelings. Princess Knight ends with Sapphire’s marriage to Prince Charming, when she has her divided self incorporated and becomes a ‘woman.’14

The division of the self or the conflict between one’s true gender/self and the other gender/self represented by a heroine’s gender-bending was one of the popular themes to be developed by many shôjo manga artists in the following decades. In these shôjo manga, as was the case with Princess Knight, an androgynous heroine or an adolescent girl in boy’s clothes finally accepts her femininity when she has her heterosexual love fulfilled. Yet it is to be noted that the heroine’s disguise as a boy signifies her wish to postpone or even evade her sexual maturity. In other words, her disguise could express her denial of herself as sexual entity. In this sense no other passages can be a more accurate description of such a heroine in shôjo manga than Malvolio’s speech on Viola at Act One Scene Five:

Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy: as a squash is before ’tis a peascod, or a codling when ’tis almost an apple. ’Tis with him in standing water between boy and man. . . . One would think his mother’s milk were scarce out of him.15
Also noteworthy is it that these manga are often accompanied by an episode, in which a leading male character falls in love with the disguised heroine and gets disturbed by his ‘homosexual’ desire, though he is to be relieved in the end when he learns that it is a girl that he fancies.16 In Morikawa’s adaptation, immediately after Malvolio’s imprisonment in Act Three Scene Four is inserted a scene of Orsino’s self-reflection on Cesario [Fig.1]. Having told Cesario to leave him alone, Orsino remains on his own in the garden looking at the full moon. The words that appear in Panels 1 and 2 are Orsio’s unvoiced thoughts, but he gets so upset about the thoughts that he unknowingly raises his voice to deny them. Therefore the words are put in the speech balloons to signify his emotions. Besides, Morikawa parodies Olivia’s image by putting unnecessarily many tacky stars around her in Panel 4, in which Orsino has already become calm enough to remind himself of his love for Olivia. Hence his thoughts are not expressed in the speech balloons in Panel 4, even though each of the sentences has two exclamation marks. Also note the cutely feminized image of Cesario, which forms a marked contract with that of Olivia. In Morikawa’s version, just like Trevor Nunn’s film adaptation of the same comedy, ‘moments of gender and sexual ambiguity involving misrecognition and misrepresentation are ultimately used to reaffirm established, normative heterosexuality.’17 By adding this scene, Morikawa carries out what is expected of the typical ‘girl-in-boy’s-attire’ manga, the assurance of heterosexual love.

Panel 4: Yes, it is only Olivia that I should dedicate my whole heart to!!

Only to that lady who is as cold as ice!!

Fig. 1

Panel 1: Something is wrong with me.

Panel 2: That (Cesario’s) face keeps coming back to haunt me these days.

Panel 3: “No, no.” “I am definitely not a sodomite!!”

Shôjo manga artists found male and female twins a handy device to project the motif of divided selves onto. Fujimoto Yukari remarks that the other self or alter ego in shôjo manga is usually represented by a heroine’s twin brother or sister, referring to no less than 54 shôjo manga about twins published from the late 1950s up to the early 80s. Most of these manga published by the mid-seventies feature either the twins who finally get reunited after experiencing separation and subsequent difficulties or the twins who ride out immediate crises by swapping their places, whether they are of the same sex or not.18 Interestingly enough, Ôtsuka Eiji contends that some of manga, specifically shôjo manga, have a narrative structure that shows affinities to rites of passage and maturation patterns, by pointing out that the events the twins experience in manga correspond to the three stages of the rites of passage; separations, transitions and incorporations. He also maintains that shôjo manga about twins often function as a model of initiation by murdering one of the twins, either in reality or in imagination, as a sacrifice for the other’s maturation.19 He refers to none of Shakespeare’s plays, yet if his theory is applied to Twelfth Night, the comedy could be read as Viola’s Bildungsroman or a story of her coming of age with the symbolic murder/death of androgynous Cesario, a mirror image of Viola, as an imagined sacrifice.20

It can be said that shôjo manga is like a sekai or the world in which some motifs are repeatedly employed in various ways to develop themes popular at a certain time. ‘Twins’ and ‘gender-bending’ are two of such common motifs exploited in the 1960s and 70s. Considering the affinities between shôjo manga and Twelfth Night as shown above, it appears quite natural that Morikawa chose and recreated Twelfth Night as a shôjo manga somewhat relevant to girls in their teens. And now arises a question of how a popular medium like shôjo manga rewrites the literary classic.

It was a complex awareness of interiority among young shôjo manga artists that fostered the rapid development of verbal and graphic expressions around 1970, and vice versa. With highly sophisticated verbal and pictorial techniques to visualize or externalize leading characters’ interiority, shôjo manga established itself as a ‘literary’ manga whose forte is psychological descriptions.21 The technical developments of verbal and graphical expressions can be summarized as below:22

1 I would like to show my gratitude to the IAS fellowship of La Trobe University. Part of this article was prepared when I was staying at the Institute of Advanced Study, La Trobe University, as Visiting Professor from January to March in 2003. I am grateful to Dr Ian Carruthers and Professor Gilah Leder for their hospitality.

2 In this Lear, Regan is an unmarried shrew and Lear in anger declares that Cordellia must not marry French King until Regan get married, just like Kate in Taming of the Shrew, though no ironical meanings are intended in the comparison of Regan to Kate and Cordellia to Bianca. Shakespeare’s plays referred or quoted in this comedy include Macbeth, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It.

3 Sakura Taisen was first released in 1996 by Sega Enterprises Ltd., and the derivatives of this videogame include manga, novels, animations, stage shows and concerts, audio/CD dramas and CD albums along with sequels to the original videogame for Play Station and Windows. The huge number of such off-shoot products in the last 8 years will illustrate its commercial success across the media as well as its large fandom. Further information about this video game and its off-shoots is available at, though in Japanese. ‘Sakura’ of Sakura Taisen comes from ‘Jingûji Sakura’, the name of the game’s heroine and leading actress of the Imperial Revue Company, which is modelled on Takarazuka Revue Company, an all-female troupe.

4 It is noteworthy that the liner notes, in the form of a newspaper of the taishô era, is a spoof of conventional didactic introductions to Shakespearean texts or performances by concluding their ‘signed’ article on this comic Lear as follows: ‘As the play contains many quotations from Shakespeare’s plays, I hope you will read one of his plays and appreciate his works and significant speeches and his views of life’. The liner notes called ‘The Teito Nippô [The Empire’s Capital Daily], Sunday Special Edition on Entertainments, October 10, 1998’, p.1.

5 It is interesting to note that the traditional ways of fabricating new stories in kabuki share a lot with those of fabricating computer-game-based products across the media.

6 Douglas Lanier, Nostalgia and Theatricality: the fate of the Shakespearean stage in the Midsummer Night’s Dreams of Hoffman, Noble, and Edzard’, in Shakespeare, the Movie II: Popularizing the plays on film, TV, video, and DVD, (eds.) Richard Burt and Lynda E. Boose (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 154-72, 154.

7 Cf. Dennis Kennedy, ‘Introduction: Shakespeare without his language’ in Foreign Shakespeare, ed. Dennis Kennedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp.1-18, p. 5. Dennis Kennedy’s remark can be extended to foreign productions in other media such as manga, animation, and the internet.

8 Shakespeare has straddled the divide between high/elite culture and low/popular culture from his first stage in Japan. Whilst the canonical status of Shakespeare is usually taken uncritically for granted in discussing Shakespeare in Japan, there have always been popular de-canonizing recreations of Shakespeare alongside the ‘canonical’ Shakespeare constituted and institutionalised by Western-style shingeki [New Drama] companies. A telling example is the 1885 kabuki version of Merchant of Venice, which was a popular entertainment also open for a postcolonial reading. As for a postcolonial reading of this first kabuki adaptation, see Yoshihara Yukari’s ‘Japan as “half-civilized”: an early Japanese adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Japan’s construction of its national image in the late nineteenth century’ in Performing Shakespeare in Japan, (eds.) Minami Ryuta, Ian Carruthers and John Gillies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 21-32, p. 21. Concerning Shingeki Shakespeare’s imagined transparency of its verbal and gestural differences from Anglophone counterparts, refer to my ‘What Happened to Shingeki Shakespeare?: Replacement of an Authentic Shakespeare on the Japanese Stage’, Performing Shakespeare in Asia, La Trobe University Asian Studies Papers -- Research Series No. 9 (Melbourne: La Trobe University, 2001), 10-17.

9 Alan Liu, ‘The Future Literacy: Literature and the Culture of Information’, in Karen Newman, Jay Clayton and Marianne Hirsch (eds.) Time and Literary (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 61-100, p. 63.

10 Although shôjo manga is a commonly used word, the word is very hard to define. This is partly because some manga authors publish their work in magazines for boys and adults as well as girls. It is often difficult to draw a clear-cut line between manga for girls and manga for boys or grownups. Yet in this article, shôjo manga is tentatively defined either as manga published by magazines that target teen and preteen girls as principal readers or as the one that is primarily meant to be bought and/or read by girls in their teens and preteens. For further information about shôjo manga in English, see Matt Thorn, “Shôjo Manga—Something for Girls,” Japan Quarterly, July-September 2001, 43-50.  Thorn’s article is a succinct introduction to shôjo manga in English.

11 The Rose of Versailles is Ikeda Riyoko’s shôjo manga which features Oscar, a woman raised as a man to become a French officer of the Imperial Guards at the time of French Revolution.

12 The talented shôjo manga artists are collectively called ‘Nijûyonen Gumi’ [The 24th-Year Group] because these artists were born in or around the 24th year of Shôwa [1949]. See Matt Thorn’s “Shôjo Manga—Something for Girls.” Cf. Yamada Tomoko, “24nen Gumi wa dare wo sasunoka” [Who are meant by the 24th-Year Group?]

13Personal e-mail correspondence with me in Japanese on July 10, 2003. In the afterword to her collected short ‘stories’, Morikawa writes that Twelfth Night and As You Like It are her favourite comedies by Shakespeare, and also writes about her love for Italy and theatre. Cf. Collected Short Stories of Morikawa Kumi: Twelfth Night (Tokyo: Koudansha, 2002), 308-9. Morikawa has created not a few manga based on kabuki, noh or western plays. It is noteworthy that one of her latest works is an adaptation of Michael Kunze’s Elisabeth, which Takarazuka Revue Company produced around the time when her manga was published.

14 The section on ‘Princess Knight and Takarazuka’ in his Dreamland Japan offers a brief but useful information about this manga.

15 William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, eds. Roger Warren and Stanley Wells (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), I. v. 150-155. Hereafter all the references to this play will appear in parenthesis in the text.

16 Fujimoto Yukari, Watashi no Ibasho wa Dokoni Aruno? Shôjo Manga ga Utsutu Kokoro no Katachi [Where is my place?: The heart and mind reflected in shôjo manga] (Tokyo: Gakuyô Shobô, 1998), p. 189-98. Fujimoto also maintains that the denouement of these manga indicates an adolescent girl’s intense desire to have her self affirmed positively by the other, her ideal partner. Cf. Fujimoto Yukari, ‘Bunshin: shôjo manga no naka no “mouhitori no watashi”’[Alter ego: ‘the other I’ in shôjo manga], Manga no Shakaigaku [Sociology of Manga], (eds.) Miyahara Kôjirô and Ogino Masahiro (Kyoto: Sekaishisôsha, 2001), 68-131. Fujimoto remarks that the ‘girl-in-male-attire’ manga has developed into variegated manga on transgender issues in the 80s and after.

17 Mari F. Magro and Mark Douglas, ‘Reflections on Sex, Shakespeare and Nostalgia in Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night’, in (eds.), Deborah Cartmell, I. Q. Hunter, and Imelda Wheleham, Retrovisions: Reinventing the Past in Film and Fiction, (London: Pluto Press, 2001), pp. 41-58, 43. Also see Richard Burt’s criticism of Nunn’s attempt to ‘contain the very potential for same-sex love’, in Unspeakable ShaXXXpeare, p. 179.

18 Fujimoto Yukari, ‘Bunshin: shôjo manga no naka no “mouhitori no watashi”’in Manga no Shakaigaku, passim and particularly pp.83-85. In this article, Fujimoto also remarks that in Princess Knight Prince Sapphire and the flaxen-haired girl can be read as what Jung calls ‘anima’ and ‘animus’ respectively, and that the tales about the divided self can include stories about male/female twins who swap their places and disguise themselves as the other sex.

19 Ôtsuka Eiji, Hitomigokûron: tûkagirei toshiteno satsujin [On a human sacrifice: murder as a rite of passage] (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 2002), passim. Also Chapter Ten [On Tales of Twins] of his Sengo Manga no Gyogenkûkan: kigouteki shintai no jubaku [Expression Space of Manga after World War II: Spellbound by semiotic bodies.] (Kyoto: Hôzôkan, 1994).

20 This understanding of the comedy agrees with the one by Kawai Hayao, a Jungian psychologist, in his Torikawabaya Otoko to Onna [The Changelings, man and woman] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1991), pp.117-22, and Kawai Hayao and Matsuoka Kazuko’s Kaidoku Shakespeare [ (Tokyo: Shinchôsha, 1999), pp.143-74.

Regarding the anthropological readings of Shakespearean plays, refer to Edward Berry’s Shakespeare’s Comic Rites (Cambridge University Press, 1984) and Marjorie Garber’s Coming of Age in Shakespeare (London: Methune, 1981).

21 It is not amiss to remember that Japanese modern literature established itself as an institution with the discovery of interiority. Cf. Ôtsuka Eiji, Sengo Manga no Hyogen Kûkan, 56-72.

22 The summary table of verbal-graphic languages is based upon the following books: Yoshimoto Takaaki, Mass Image Ron [ A Theory on Mass Images], (Tokyo: Fukutake Shoten, 1988), Onodera Yoshiki (ed), Comic Media: yawarakai jôh­ôsouchi toshiteno manga [Comic Media: manga as a soft information equipment] (Tokyo: NTT Shuppan, 1992), Ôtsuka Eiji and Sakakibara Gou, Kyôyou toshiteno /anime>[Manga/Animation as Culture] (Tokyo: Kôdansha, 2001), Hase Kunio, Manga no Kôgaku [The study on the structures of manga] (Tokyo: Index Shuppan, 2000), Ôtsuka Eiji, Sengo Manga no Hyogen Kûkan, Miyahara Kôjirô and Ogino Masahiro (eds.), Manga no Shakaigaku, Fujimoto Yukari, Watashi no Ibasho wa Dokoni Aruno? Shôjo Manga ga Utsutu Kokoro no Katachi.


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