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Company that owns Kurosawa’s screenplays goes bankrupt

Akira KurosawaDesignEXchange Co, the Japanese company which purchased rights to Akira Kurosawa’s screenplays back in 2007, has apparently gone bankrupt and will be dissolved in May. This was reported in ITmedia and Venture Now.

What this means for the screenplay rights is unclear to me, as is how this will impact productions that should already be under away, as for instance The Masque of Black Death, an animated film based on a Kurosawa script that is an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story.

The DesignEXchange company website doesn’t seem to make things any clearer.

I must stress a couple of things here. One is that I am basing this on the two Japanese articles mentioned above. The other is that I am not a native Japanese speaker, nor do I really understand the way Japanese businesses operate, i.e. what this all actually means. If anyone has anything to add or correct, please do so. I know that we have had a few people here who have been in close contact with DesignEXchange over the years.


Discussion

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Vili Maunula

Based on what I have been able to dig up (well, all thanks really go to an investor in Japan who has helped us before), the majority of the money currently owed by the now practically penniless DesignEXchange is owed to Kurosawa’s people (I assume Kurosawa Productions). This will likely mean that if the rights to the screenplays are to go anywhere, the most likely direction should be Kurosawa Productions. Which is relatively good news.

Another interesting tidbit is that due to the delisting of DesignEXchange and their current financial troubles, the accounting value of Kurosawa’s screenplays, on the paper at least, is currently close to zero. Not that, to the best of my understanding, this should have much real life impact outside of the bankruptcy of DesignEXchange.

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Vili Maunula

In case you are interested, Google Finance tells a sad story about the falling stock price of DesignEXchange. Yesterday was their last trading day, and the stock price finished at 36 yen. Five years earlier, it was around 100,000.

One also has to wonder what exactly happened around June 25, 2004, when the price temporarily reached almost one million yen.

Looking at the stock price development, it’s actually interesting that they were still able to purchase rights to Kurosawa’s screenplays at the end of 2007.

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lawless

While this situation doesn’t seem to be the fault of the same people who screwed up the Kurosawa Foundation and the 100th anniversary celebration, I am glad Kurosawa’s not alive to see that his screenplays nominally have no value.

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Vili Maunula

lawless: While this situation doesn’t seem to be the fault of the same people who screwed up the Kurosawa Foundation and the 100th anniversary celebration

I don’t want to point any fingers since I don’t really know any of the facts, but Kurosawa’s son Hisao Kurosawa was, I think, both the head of Kurosawa Foundation as well as a member of the board of directors at DesignEXchange. DesingEXchange was, I think, at least partly in charge of the AK100 project. It’s all one big house of cards.

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lawless

I didn’t realize that DesignEXchange might be related to the Kurosawa Foundation or other Kurosawa enterprises. My only response: *headdesk*

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Ugetsu

It does seem to be a feature of Japanese companies that everything is interconnected. I know next to nothing about Japanese legal processes, but the little I know would suggest that the scripts are likely to be tangled up in the wreckage of a company like that for a long time, never to emerge. Its a great shame. I would have thought that if they’d been packaged up right and marketed they would have quite a significant value (financial I mean, leaving other forms of value to one side at the moment).

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cocoskyavitch

I dunno. My friend, Hiro, who works at a major Tokyo television station feels about Kurosawa…meh. So, I wonder how much value the films actually have.

It’s the oddball socio/anthro/cineaste who actually can care to spend more than five seconds thinking about a Kurosawa film. Most folks I know can’t make it through a single viewing. I’m afraid it went something like Pop/Art/Meh.

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Ugetsu

Coco

So, I wonder how much value the films actually have.

Interesting question. I always assumed that while there would not be a huge demand for Kurosawa films, as the cost of distribution and publishing of films in digital media these days is so low, then the profit margin would be very high. The whole ‘long tail’ theory of modern culture implies that lowered distribution costs due to digital publishing means that it is now viable to keep books/films etc out in the market much longer.

I assume there still is a strong specialist market for old Japanese films – there is a steady stream of (presumably) commercial books out on the subject, such as the recent (and gorgeous) one by Taschen. And I assume Criterion make money from their very costly blu-ray transfers of Kurosawa and Ozu films. Maybe Criterion are just much better at marketing than any of the Japanese film companies.

It is interesting how many old films are now available free online, such as one of my favourite old Japanese films, Red Angel. I don’t know if Youtube pay for this, or whether they just take advantage of films coming out of copyright.

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Vili Maunula

As Coco points out, Kurosawa’s completed films probably aren’t a huge money making machine, but they are big enough to make it commercially viable to do what Criterion is doing — if your market is as big as North America.

But do remember that the situation with DesignEXchange has more to do with screenplay rights, which means remake rights, and those can be very valuable assets if managed well. In addition to Kurosawa’s own films, we are also talking about other films that Kurosawa wrote or co-wrote. Unless I’m mistaken, this is altogether 71 scripts. There is much to tap into there commercially.

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Laird Wilcox

Well, this is all news to me. In my world of Kurosawa fans I would think anything having to do with him would be quite valuable. Something doesn’t seem right here.

Also, although not quite on topic, I just read what the “remake” of Seven Samurai was going to be about: modern paramilitary organization defends Thai village!

Somebody must hate Kurosawa out there. This is like blasphemy. Why even mention his name in reference to this movie.

I think I’ll just take my Kurosawa films into my study and lock the door.

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