"I work a lot in France, where manga and anime are enormously popular, although many theater producers think they are basically for children and are often too violent. However, they regard my robot theater as being an essentially Japanese art form," the pioneering dramatist Oriza Hirata said recently during a break in rehearsals for his upcoming version of Franz Kafka's absurdist gem, "The Metamorphosis."

"But then they found out that robot theater is actually a very high-tech art form with nonchildish content," he added with a quiet smile on his face.

Now one of the country's leading directors and playwrights for more than 20 years, Hirata, 51, was speaking in a studio at Kinosaki International Arts Center by the Sea of Japan in Kinosaki, Hyogo Prefecture. The center, which opened in April and is funded by Toyooka City, of which Kinosaki is part, allows up to 28 people involved in the performing arts to stay there to develop new works and preview them in one of its two theaters.