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Shu Matsui’s innocent smile is familiar. He’s always beaming on TV ads, whether he’s plugging a washing softener, playing a gentle new father or promoting mobile phones in the guise of a young doctor. But if you were to see any production by Sample, the theater company Matsui founded in 2007, you’d be amazed to find a huge gap between the 37-year-old playwright, actor and director’s heartwarming small-screen personality and the disturbing scripts, bizarre story lines and abstract sets that are his company’s trademark.

Matsui’s theater work is making quite an impact: In May, he was named by the New York Times as “one of (Japan’s) most important young directors.” As if pre-empt any stereotyping of his work as offbeat, however, he will stage two completely different plays in Tokyo this month.

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