Update: Copyright law is complicated, and it now seems that Kurosawa is still very much under copyright. See this news item.
News are emerging that a Tokyo District court has ruled all pre-1953 Japanese films to be in the public domain. Paramount Pictures was contesting this based on a 2004 ruling that extended copyrights for 20 years, however the court has now ruled that it cannot be applied retroactively.
This means that almost half of Akira Kurosawa’s movies now ought to be in the public domain. The titles that he directed before 1953 are:
Ikiru (1952), Hakuchi (“The Idiot”, 1951), Rashomon (1950), Shubun (“Scandal”, 1950), Nora inu (“Stray Dog”, 1949), Shizukanaru ketto (“The Quiet Duel”, 1949), Yoidore tenshi (“Drunken Angel”, 1948), Subarashiki nichiyobi (“One Wonderful Sunday”, 1947), Waga seishun ni kuinashi (“No Regrets for My Youth”, 1946), Asu o tsukuru hitobito (“Those Who Make Tomorrow”, 1946), Zoku Sugata Sanshiro (“Judo Saga II”, 1945), Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi (“They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail”, 1945), Ichiban utsukushiku (“The Most Beautiful”, 1944), Sugata Sanshiro (“Judo Saga”, 1943).
It also includes the more than thirty films that he worked on as an assistant director before Sugata Sanshiro, as well as the some 20 additional films that he scripted for other directors before 1953.
In fact, if I understand this correctly, it is not only pre-1953 films made in Japan that are in the public domain in Japan. The ruling should also include foreign films released before that date.