Monday, July 31, 2023

Japan Cuts ’23: Winny

Winny was sort of like a Japanese Napster, but it was originally envisioned for more Wikileaks-style purposes. At least that was the defense offered by the creator’s lawyers when he was put on trial for facilitating copyright infringement. Technically, Isamu Kaneko is on-trial, but so is his creation in Yusaku Matsumoto’s Winny, which screens as part of this year’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.

Kaneko fits every programmer stereotype, making him a difficult defendant for the old school judges to relate to, or understand. Fortunately, Toshimitsu Dan gets him enough to formulate his defense, while also communicating persuasively. Dan also has the benefit of Akita Masashi, his firm’s crafty senior partner, who is serving as co-counsel.

Of course, the naïve Kaneko makes things much more difficult for them, by signing pre-written statements the Kyoto police assure him they he can change later. The case is strange in many ways, since it focuses on Kaneko instead of those who actually pirated copyrighted works. However, it is not lost on anyone that the same police precinct is concurrently denying corruption charges prompted by financial records distributed anonymously via Winny.

During the trial, the word “proliferate” takes on great significance. In fact, these court room scenes and all the trial prep are really crisply executed. Unfortunately, Matsumoto and co-screenwriter Kentro Kishi never fully integrates the police slush fund subplot with the rest of the film. It is a shame, because Yoshioka Hidetaka is excellent portraying Senba, the police whistleblower.

Regardless, Masahiro Higashide nicely humanizes Kaneko, while still playing up his geekiness awkwardness. Takahiro Miura portrays Dan like a slightly pudgy Japanese Tom Hanks, while Fukukoshi Mitsuru is absolute joy to watch chewing the scenery as Masashi, the wise, grey-bearded senior partner.

starts a little slow and the two main narrative strands never fit together perfectly, but the work of the ensemble is quite remarkable. Throughout it all, it is glaringly obvious Matsumoto and Kishi are down with Team Kaneko all the way. It would have been richer and more complex had there also been a sympathetic perspective from the prosecution added, but honestly, almost every film is exclusively one-sided these days. Recommended for fans of courtroom dramas and anyone interested in legal issues it addresses, Winny screens Wednesday (8/2), as part of Japan Cuts ’23.