On January 28, 1988, Mr. S of Kurosawa Production called me saying that he was having discussions with Toho regarding overseas distributions of Kurosawa works, etc. but has not reached a conclusion so he wanted me to give him some advice. At 2 p.m. of February 1, I met with Mr. S at my office and talked. At that time, of course, I had no idea that it was the beginning of a Japan-U.S. lawsuits battle which would arise 4 years later.
According to Mr. S, there were various disputes tracing back to 1950's when "The Seven Samurai" was produced and he had not yet found a clue to settle them. By the time he came to me for consultation, there had been several exchanges of documents between Kurosawa Production and Toho, and on October 12, 1987, a meeting was held among Toho's officers and Mr. I and Mr. S of Kurosawa Production. These discussions moved along totally different tracks and there seemed to be no compromise. Kurosawa Production thought it would be hopeless to reach a settlement by direct consultation with Toho so they decided to make a drastic proposal using a lawyer.
Right away, I started studying correspondence between Kurosawa Production and Toho and the agreement(s) based upon which such correspondence were made. There were more than 20 kinds of agreements the oldest one being 1950's, and their relationships were complicated. It seemed that these agreements were prepared without the help from lawyer(s). Some were related to Kurosawa Production and others were related to Akira Kurosawa himself and they were all mixed up. It was more difficult than a complicated jigsaw puzzle to understand the relationships. But I should say it was quite lucky that there were at least some written agreements because making written agreements was something exceptional in the show business. It seems that most of the agreements between Toho and Kurosawa were prepared by Toho, because protection of rights was focused on. These agreements showed that Toho was having a certain kind of alertness against Kurosawa and they were intending to finish further requests from Kurosawa by a written agreement. You can see that the agreement(s) should have been made very carefully from Toho side, but as long as it was made by a person, there must always be a crack and the role of a lawyer is to assemble arguments by attacking such a crack.
I read a bunch of old agreements as if I were solving riddles to scrape together materials advantageous for Kurosawa side. Considering the negotiations theretofore, it was not practical that Toho side would compromise easily, and I thought ordinary discussions would be insufficient to bring out from Toho any response worth considering. So I decided to put in the requests to Toho something that would surprise them and drew up a plan. With respect to the five Toho-Kurosawa tie-up works ("The Bad Sleep Well", "Yojimbo", "The Sanjuro", "High and Low", and "Red Beard"), distribution money and damages for unauthorized video distributions in foreign countries should be charged to Toho naturally. In addition to that, I would take up a distribution right problem of "Kagemusha" and a copyright problem relating to the five tie-up works. I noticed that with respect to "Kagemusha", the copyright of the film were jointly owned by Kurosawa Production and Kabushiki Kaisha Toho Eiga (an affiliated company of Toho Kabushiki Kaisha) and Toho only had the distribution right of the film. According to the distribution agreement, Toho was going to pay as consideration for the distribution of "Kagemusha" a certain percentage of the revenue for a period of ten years from the date of domestic release to Kurosawa Production and Toho Eiga. It seems that Toho considered the period being a time for the payment of consideration for the distribution right and that Toho would naturally possess the distribution right thereafter. By reading the agreement, however, I noticed that there is no promise that Toho's distribution right would last forever, and if that is the case, the copyright holder of the film may terminate Toho's distribution right by giving a notice with a due period of deadline according to the Civil Code. Consent from Toho Eiga is necessary, of course, in order to terminate the distribution right, but it is possible to obtain the consent if we took procedures in accordance with the Copyright Law. Thus, I decided to suggest to Toho the possibility of terminating its distribution right of "Kagemusha" after ten-year period and using it as an effective method to carry on with the negotiations.
With respect to the copyright of the five tie-up works, Toho seemed to have no doubt about its ownership of the right. Because the agreement relating to the production of those works provided for "any and all rights of the films" were owned by Toho. On the contrary, I asserted that Kurosawa Production was the copyright holder of the five tie-up works because the actual situations of the film production indicated that Toho was the investor and Kurosawa Production was the film producer, and also by referring the situation with the production agreement of "Kagemusha". This assertion was a forced interpretation of mine and I was intending to make a concession at the final stage. But I thought in order to make Toho serious, such stimulating assertion was needed. I sent a letter to President Isao Matsuoka of Toho dated May 19, 1988 including the above contents. As a reply, lawyer M, the attorney for Toho, sent me a letter dated August 29 of the same year. Since then, many correspondences were exchanged between the lawyer M and me, and after having several meetings, discussions came near to the conclusion and the disputes over 30 years were almost reaching a settlement. The intent of Kurosawa Production at that time was getting fixed to a direction where they may agree to settle the disputes if Toho was ready to pay a due amount as settlement money. Kurosawa Production's requests were divided into two kinds; one which is monetarily solvable such as the distribution money of the five tie-up works or unauthorized sales of video tapes, and the other under which interest relationship is affected such as the distribution right of "Kagemusha" or the copyright of the five tie-up works. Kurosawa Production's intention was to withdraw all the requests, the whole of the above two kinds, if Toho offered to them a satisfactory amount of money. There was, however, a large gap between Toho and Kurosawa Production with respect to the amount of the money and it was far beyond reaching an agreement.