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Ekiden — marathon relay races — may not be unique to Japan, but the sport has become uniquely popular here, with the biggest races, such as the Hakone Ekiden for university teams, garnering Olympic-like media attention and TV ratings.

So it’s no surprise that “Naoko,” the latest in a long line of Japanese battle-to-glory sports movies, should be about a high-school Ekiden team, from a fictional island in Nagasaki Prefecture.

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