Photo/Illutration Masahiro Higashide, center left, portrays Isamu Kaneko, developer of the Winny file-sharing program, while Takahiro Miura, center right, takes on the role of defense lawyer Toshimitsu Dan in “Winny.” ((c) 2023 “Winny” Film Partners)

Actor Masahiro Higashide initially believed he would be playing the role of a “villain” as the protagonist of “Winny.”

But he soon admired the real-life character of Isamu Kaneko, the creator of the Winny file-sharing program, and described the software programmer’s criminal trial and death as a tragedy and a loss for Japanese innovation.

“At first, I imagined he developed Winny with malicious intent,” Higashide said. “But the more I learned about him, the more I was convinced that he genuinely loved programming and that he was a genius who was exploring uncharted territory.”

In 2002, Kaneko, a former assistant at a graduate school of the University of Tokyo, announced his development of Winny and started distributing it for free.

Winny was widely used to share videos and music content online, but this led to suspected copyright violations.

The film shows how Kaneko fought copyright-violation charges in court while being tormented by a societal tendency to nip technological progress in the bud.

Kaneko died from an acute heart attack one year and seven months after he was acquitted by the Supreme Court. He was 42.

His criminal trial lasted for more than seven years, depriving him of the time to contribute to innovation.

“What Japan lost …,” Higashide said. “We must think about it.”

While preparing for the role, the actor interviewed Kaneko’s defense lawyers and read court records.

He even also met with Kaneko’s bereaved family and borrowed his glasses and wristwatch, which he wore when he played the character.

Higashide said he especially focused on scenes when Kaneko was by himself.

“It is worth portraying the character when he is all alone because no one else knows that moment,” the actor said. “I imagined his feelings, got deep into them and closed in on what’s not seen. I think that’s what makes a movie a movie.”

“Winny” is currently showing nationwide in Japan.