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PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2023 9:17 pm 
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YUSAKU MATSUMOTO: WINNY (2023) - JAPAN CUTS, NYC, JULY 26-AIGUST 6, 2023

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MASAHIRO HIGASHIDE, CENTER, TAKAHIRO MIURA TO HIS LEFT, IN WINNY

Cyber innovation on trial in Japan- a pessimistic portrayal

Young director Yusaku Matsumoto, who's only thirty, probably has a sense of involvement in the storyline of Winny. His generation grew up in a cyber world that was threatened when the Japanese system arrested the talented programmer Isamu Kaneko for his person-to-person, aka peer-to-peer, file sharing software Winny, ostensibly since it had been used to violate copyright or propriety in sharing files. To do this was crushing an aspect of tech in the country and punishing a creator for the actions of the users. Compare the file sharer Napster in the US. It was shut down due to copyright infringement suits and is no more; but Sean Parker went on to become, as shown in Fincher's The Social Network a very young billionaire. Winny lacks the brilliance and wit of Aaron Sorkin's screenplay and David Fincher's direction in The Social Network and also paints a grimmer picture of cyber freedom - in Japan.

Japan Times film writer James Hadfield suggests that Masahiro Higashide, who plays the beleaguered Kaneko in this film, has benefitted from his "fall from grace" to play more interesting roles. (Higashide lost contracts and licenses after discovery of his affair with an underage woman during his former wife's pregnancy.) The tall Kendo adept put on 18 kilos and wore Kaneko's glasses and watch to assume the identity. Reportedly he at first thought he was playing a "villain," but learned otherwise. He is playing a kind of martyr.

What appears initially is that Kaneko is either naive or a fool, because he signs any confession the police hand him, and in conviction-mad Japan, confessionss are hard to shuck off. Kaneko should not have been hounded. A lawyer suggests in the film that charging the creator of Winny for copyright violations was like jailing a knife manufacturer for a stabbing death; but this is a bad image, because it links sharing files with committing murder.

The film has a subplot about an attempt to expose corrupt police practices in the country - something about fake receipts for payments to witnesses that were never made that I'm not sure I quite fully grasped. It's peripherally relevant, because this revealed the dishonesty of the police pursuing the Winny case. Likewise with the retro judges who followed their bidding and crushed Kaneko's innovative gift. there must be something complicit and dishonest in the stoniness of prosecution, judge, and police in a country where the conviction rate is 99.9%. We see how Toshimitsu Dan (Takahiro Miura), a lawyer specializing in cybercrime, takes on the unusual case. An unusually successful and colorful criminal lawyer is also called in, but his success in getting a cop to admit his lies has little ultimate effect.

As Hadfield says this is a film that "educates more than it entertains." Unfortunately the excitement Winny generates at the outset dissolves into numbing, repetitious legal procedures and concludes on concluding mood of pessimism.

A Wikipedia article reports both that "File sharing in Japan is notable for both its size and sophistication," and that in Japan "Unlike most other countries, file sharing copyrighted content is not just a civil offense, but a criminal one," with 10-year penalties for uploading and 2-year ones for downloading, and a lot of ISP cooperation in entrapment. The downloading penalties came in a national law passed by a wide margin in 2012, year of the release of Winny, according to an item in Wired. Perhaps this explains why this film may inevitably feel timid and pessimistic, despite its trappings of a big legal procedural.

Winny cases against Kaneko dragged on and it took lawyers seven years to gain his acquittal, and two years after that he died of a heart, at 42. The main body of the film ends before his court ordeals were even half over, with an initial guilty verdict by a judge who was obviously closed minded from the start and imposes a big fine. This scene moves on to an open air scene with grim followup pronouncement to Kaneko from Toshimitsu Dan, who seems less optimistic then he is. "In Japan," he says, once you are convicted, it's difficult to restore your honor, even if you are acquitted next time." In a little weepy coda Kaneko's grieving sister assures Dan he meant a lot to her dead brother. Couldn't the film have ended on a more positive, energetic note?

Winny, 127 mins., opened in Japan March 10, 2023, also shown in festivals at Jeonju and Shanghai in Apr. and June. Screened for this review aspart of the July 26-August 6, 2023 NYC series, Japan Cuts when it was shown Wed., Aug. 2, 2023 at 9pm.

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