Masahiro Higashide’s public fall from grace may be the best thing that ever happened to him as an actor. Since being cast into the entertainment industry wilderness a few years ago, he has delivered some of his gutsiest work, including playing a grieving widower in Hiroyuki Miyagawa’s “Trapped Balloon” and a man suffering from a neurological disorder in Hisashi Saito’s “The Sound of Grass.”
He plays even more wildly against type in Yusaku Matsumoto’s “Winny,” shrugging off his Olympian physique to portray real-life programmer Isamu Kaneko. Showing a Method-like devotion, Higashide gained 18 kilograms for the role and adopts a range of quirky tics and mannerisms. It’s never wholly convincing, but it’s fascinating to watch.
Kaneko is best remembered as the creator of Winny, a peer-to-peer file-sharing program released in 2002 that quickly became the software of choice for online piracy in Japan, in much the same way that Napster had in the West. But while Napster’s creators walked away free to pursue other ventures, Kaneko was arrested and put on trial for enabling copyright violations.