He doesn't officially become Kanagawa Arts Theatre's artistic director until April 1, but Akira Shirai wasn't fooling when he declared, "I aim to make KAAT (the official acronym of his Yokohama base) a place where we take a whole fresh look at theater's role in today's Japan."

That ambitious mission statement appeared (in Japanese) on KAAT's website as the stage at Kanagawa Prefecture's public theater was being set for Shirai to formally take over from Amon Miyamoto, the world-renowned director of such musicals as "Pacific Overtures" and "The Fantasticks" who has held the title of artistic director since KAAT opened in 2010.

In fact, Shirai, 58, has been filling that role since April 2014, when he was appointed "artistic supervisor" after Miyamoto left. Yet for reasons best known to bureaucrats, the popular stage and screen actor — and renowned leader of his own Yukikai Zenjido Theater company from 1983-2002 — has had to wait two years to see his title changed to "artistic director."