Between Kurosawa Production and Universal, negotiations were going on relating to the remake of "High and Low" and I was assisting it on the Japanese side. An American lawyer who was in charge of these negotiations on Kurosawa Production side was a guy named Jeffrey Graubart, whom I had already been acquainted with on a different matter. The lawyer Alan Reburt whom I talked on the phone during the negotiations for the settlement agreement died suddenly on or around the execution of the agreement and Graubart who was a friend of Mr. I took over his position. I should say it was a curious coincidence, because the first time I met with Graubart was a negotiation meeting with Mr. I. It was just when I was devoting all my energy into the negotiations of the joint production agreement of "Ran" as an attorney for Kurosawa Production and dealing with Serge Silberman, but simultaneously, I was also having negotiations with another American company with respect to the production of a different movie. As an attorney for a Japanese video production company, I was handling these negotiations and as an attorney for the American company, Jeffrey Graubart appeared. Mr. I who was the president of a trading company was participating in the negotiations acting as an intermediary for the two U.S.-Japan companies. At that time, Graubart and I met for the first time is a work not related to Akira Kurosawa, but who could guess we would be fighting in the same team after a couple of years?
Until the beginning of 1991, I was exchanging several fax messages with Graubart relating to the right of the original work of "High and Low" to obtain necessary documents from Toho. In 1991, I was surprised to know that Graubart was engaged in negotiations with Universal relating to the remake of "The Seven Samurai" in addition to the remake of "High and Low". I did not, however, put in a word because I had not been asked to assist in the case of "The Seven Samurai". In 1991, Universal was intending to carry a completion bond before producing a remake of "The Seven Samurai", but a problem arose from a doubt of the insurance company who was going to offer the completion bond. A completion bond is translated as Kansei Hoken in Japanese and is often used by European and American film making companies. Film making is a highly risky project. Due to various reasons such as insufficient funding, illness or injuries of the director, actors/actresses, or other staff, inadequate weather, etc., the production sometimes fails to be achieved. There are two methods in carrying an insurance against those risks. One is to put insurance on each of the risks. That is, if the director gets sick and the production is postponed for a while, a pre-determined fixed amount shall be paid for such accident. This method was used for the film "Ran". On the contrary, Kansei Hoken is a system whereby if and when a film making was faced to a difficulty due to any reason whatsoever, the insurance company itself would make the film, put the money into it, and even change the director when it is necessary to do so for the completion of the film. This is a method accompanying high risk for an insurance company, and about 10% of the production budget of the film is usually paid, but again it is necessary for the insurance company to make a sever evaluation of the risk.
First, the insurance company has to check if all the rights necessary for producing the film are secured. In case of the remaking of "The Seven Samurai", the first point is, with respect to a right, who owns the right to grant remake. Concerning this matter, Universal seemed to have stated that the three scenario writers had the right to grant the remake showing 1978 judgement by the Tokyo District Court. The insurance company obtained an English translation of this Tokyo District Court judgement and studied it. The insurance company found an incomprehensible part in the document, asked Universal to give them an explanation, which was conveyed to us through Graubart.
The point where the insurance company deemed as problem was that there was a part where it can be read as the plaintiff, the three scenario writers including Akira Kurosawa, approved the transfer from Toho to Alciona of the right to make the film. If this is correct, the right to make the film of "The Seven Samurai" had already been transferred to Alciona and the writers including Akira Kurosawa do not have any rights. The corresponding part of the judgement sentences is shown below. The word "Plaintiffs" means the three scenario writers including Akira Kurosawa and "Defendant" means Toho.
"The fact that Plaintiffs have granted to Defendant the right to make just one motion picture from the Scenario is obvious from the following fact. That is, Defendant executed in September 1958 an agreement under which it transferred the right to Alciona to make a motion picture from the Scenario assuming that Defendant owns such right. Defendant did, however, once offered Plaintiffs at or around November 1960 without disclosing the above-mentioned fact asking for Plaintiffs' approval to grant to Alciona the right to make the film from the Scenario, to which Plaintiffs agreed. Accordingly, Plaintiffs received from Defendant an amount of $5000 and $2000 respectively. If Defendant had obtained BUKKENTEKI EIGAKAKEN of the Scenario under the agreement with Plaintiffs, Defendant should have been able to transfer to Alciona at its discretion such BUKKENTEKI EIGAKAKEN that it had obtained without obtaining Plaintiffs' approval. Nevertheless, the facts that Defendants made the above-mentioned offer or distributed the money it had received from Alciona mean that it admits it had not obtained the BUKKENTEKI EIGAKAKEN from Plaintiffs". (No. 5 "Approval or Disapproval against protest"-4)
But if this is true, it obviously conflicts with the main sentence of the judgement. The main sentence of the judgement clearly states "It is hereby verified that Plaintiffs have the right to make the film from the scenario of "The Seven Samurai". If the court admitted the transfer from Toho to Alciona of the right to make the film, it is impossible that such judgement sentences were given. Furthermore, the part referred to above was an assertion by Plaintiffs, the scenario writers, and I cannot understand why they have to assert what is disadvantageous to them. Even stranger thing is Toho, Defendant, refuted
against it as follows.
"Plaintiffs further claim that if Defendant have obtained BUKKENTEKI EIGAKAKEN of the Scenario, Defendant would not seek approval of Plaintiffs with respect its entering into the agreement under which the right to make the film from the Scenario is granted to Alciona Production Incorporated (hereinafter simply referred to as "Alciona"). Nevertheless, the reason why Defendant sought for Plaintiffs' approval was because Plaintiffs possessed CHOSAKUSHA JINKAKUKEN (especially identity holding right) with respect to the Scenario, and they sought approval to add changes to the contents of the Scenario including backgrounds, name of the characters, characteristics of the characters, etc. Furthermore, the reason why the whole amount of the money ($7,500) that Defendant received from Alciona was delivered to Plaintiffs was that it was paid as a compensation for the above-mentioned approval" (No. 4 "Protest"-6)
To make brief explanation on what Toho was saying, it certainly did seek for approval by the scenario writers, but was not the transfer of the right to make the film but for "making changes to the contents of the scenario with respect to backgrounds, names, characteristics of the characters, etc.". Considering the issue of the battle, this is a kind of assertion that Toho put itself at a disadvantageous position, and if Toho admits what the scenario writers are saying, that would be interpreted as the existence of approval of the transfer of the right to make the film, so I thought Toho had already won the lawsuit.
Even after reading the judgement sentences over and over, my doubt concerning the above matter was not clarified, I decided to go to the Tokyo District Court to see the whole lawsuit records. But as I checked with the Tokyo District Court, they told me all the lawsuit records except the judgement sentences had been abandoned. In any case, the case had occurred more than 20 years ago and Kurosawa Production had no record of those days. I was at a loss. The next thing which came to my mind was asking the lawyer who was working for Mr. Akira Kurosawa and others in those days. I checked the lawyers' directory and found his telephone number and called. A family answered my call and told me that lawyer Katsumoto, Kurosawa's attorney, was at the great age of over ninety and he was not able to carry normal daily conversations. I further asked her whether they have any records of that time or not, and she answered to me that there were no lawyer who took over lawyer Katsumoto's work relating to copyrights, and it was obscure where the records of those days were kept. Concerning the relationship between Toho, the situation had already been got worsened so I was unable to ask either of Toho or Toho's lawyer and my research was deadlocked there. Under these conditions, I had to make some response to Universal anyway. My answer to Universal was "Regardless of the contents of the reason for the judgement, the main sentence of the judgement clearly states that it is the three scenario writers including Akira Kurosawa who have the right to make the film, and as long as the judgement is finalized, there is no doubt about the existence of the right".