Running scenes have been a staple since the start of the movies, but in the silent days the fleet-footed hero was usually trying to outrun the police. Now, competitive running in its various forms, from the ekiden relay to the marathon, has become a subset of the feel-good sports film in Japan, with the hero’s goal often being more self-improvement than victory.

Yuya Nakaizumi’s “Running Again,” which opened the 2018 Skip City International D-Cinema Festival in Saitama Prefecture, combines both of these strands, though the latter is stronger. In fact, a more accurate title might be “Run to Change Your Life” — and not merely by escaping the long arm, or strides, of the law.

Made with the backing of the city of Kawaguchi, where Skip City is held, the film is a feature-length promo for Kawaguchi’s big annual race with everyone from experienced runners to beginning joggers competing.

Running Again (Kimi ga Mata Hashiridasu Toki)
Run Time 90 mins.
Trailer Watch Trailer

Based on an original script by Yoshiro Oka, “Running Again” oversells its running-is-good-for-you premise, similar to earnest infomercials that promise wonders in a bottle. But it is also pushing a product that, if you put in the sweat and effort, does deliver real-life benefits. So if “Running Again” persuades couch potatoes to lace up their Nikes and hit the streets, more power to it.

The film opens with a chase scene, with the pursued being a buff young guy (the single-named Kanichiro) who ditches his unseen pursuers by hiding under a bridge near Tokyo’s Arakawa River. Then, while he is hydrating from the outdoor tap of a house, its elderly owner (Chieko Matsubara) addresses him familiarly as “Satoru,” her long-lost grandson.

Rather than disabuse her, the fugitive decides to play his assigned role and stay with her until the coast is clear. Then her real granddaughter, Kaori (Rio Yamashita), shows up, supposedly to write a novel — but actually to save on rent as she reboots her failing writing career. She soon discovers the fake Satoru — real name Shota Igarashi — but doesn’t out him to her grandmother.

This could be the start of a yet another rom-com with a meet-cute storyline bordering on fantasy, but a radio show about a spunky septuagenarian marathoner soon sets off an inspirational chain reaction affecting not only “Satoru” and Kaori but also the tenants of the grandmother’s nearby apartment house. They include a depressed retired schoolteacher (Hatsunori Hasegawa), a suicidal “office lady” (the single-named Nahana) and a cheery ace runner (Yuki Tsujimoto) whose wife (Erika Tsunashima) is seriously ill in the hospital. This quintet is soon jogging together by the Arakawa, with the ace providing running tips.

Given that everyone in this impromptu running club is dealing with problems that would normally require the better part of a film to solve, the scriptwriters had their work cut out for them. Their solution is to use running as a convenient catalyst that not only builds fitness and eases stress but brings strangers together almost instantly and helps them successfully engage with their various issues, from the psychological to the legal. Naturally, the culmination of their group effort is the Kawaguchi race.

As a cyclist who has passed thousands of runners on the Arakawa and even had to ride around the Kawaguchi race, I’m a bit skeptical. Running may make them thinner and even happier — but I’ve yet to spot a halo. Maybe I need to run with a different crowd.

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