Matsuri (festivals) in Japan are not only about fireworks, as the monthlong “Summer Summit 2007” drama event attests.
Since the festival was first staged in 1989 by internationally renowned playwright/director Oriza Hirata, owner of the Komaba Agora Theater in Shibuya Ward, this biannual midsummer and midwinter event has become a highlight of Japan’s drama calendar. Its aim is to introduce rising talent and local theater companies to a wider audience.
In recent years, young dramatists have taken over programming and running the festival from Hirata, and this time around it’s the turn of Toshiki Okada. As founder of the Tokyo-based avant-garde Chelfitsch theater company, it’s hardly surprising that his program features a range of experimental plays and collaborations with international dramatists.
Cologne-based Australian director, actress and playwright Cymbeline Buhler will present the first in a series of long-term stagings that she calls her “life’s work.” “Living on Stone Rice” features Japanese actors and grew out of workshops Buhler held here last year and in 2005, which many participants described as a “therapeutic experience.”
“Our production is based on real stories gathered from actors’ family histories,” Buhler told The Japan Times this week, explaining that “the devising process has been quite uncomfortable for the actors.” The result, she said, is a play that “comprises two stories played using nonrealist styles, within which to frame more realistic windows into the historical world.” She said this leads to the question: Is it possible to develop belief systems independently of the historical forces that work upon us?
The Kyoto-based Kinoshita Kabuki Company will perform a radical version of the traditional ghost story, “Yotsuya Kaidan.” In this, a cast of twentysomethings will be doing their best to demolish authentic kabuki style and reconstruct an entirely new interpretation of this famous summer chiller in T-shirts and jeans.
Also on the program is playwright Harold Pinter’s “The Collection,” presented by Tokyo-based Liber Theatre troupe, and “unlock#2: Solaris,” by the Tokyo Deathlock Company, an adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s landmark 1961 science-fiction novel, “Solaris.”
Created by the company’s founder, Junnosuke Takakura — famed for a tendency to challenge orthodox theater methods that often feature modern-day colloquial language and nonfixed roles — it would be surprising if this doesn’t set off his usual critical storm.
“Summer Summit 2007” also includes theater workshops and lectures. It runs through Sept. 2 at the Komaba Agora Theater (tel.  3467-2743), a 3-minute walk from Komaba Todaimae Station on the Keio Inokashira Line.
For more information, visit www.agora-summit.com.
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