The Take Over Zone (テイクオーバーゾーン) is where the heroine of Shinpei Yamasaki’s coming-of-age drama finds herself trapped, resentfully mired in adolescent confusion torn between the childish delusion of familial reunion and an adult acceptance of change. Sari (Riru Yoshina) is indeed on the run, a lonely loner convincing herself that freedom lies only in total independence while simultaneously justifying her new found appreciation for a team sport in insisting that they need her, basking in their gratitude when they win only thanks to her. 

Running may be the only bright spot in Sari’s life, though she can hardly be bothered even with that anymore. Two years previously her parents divorced. Sari’s mother Fumi (Chika Uchida) left with her younger brother Toma while she stayed behind with her feckless father Kenichi (Yota Kawase), a construction worker with a gambling problem. Forced to grow up all too soon, Sari is more or less looking after herself. Finding only beer in the fridge and a betting slip in the bin which explains why the cash jar is empty, she’s forced to raid her piggy bank for food while the house is a permanent mess. Understandably resentful, Sari is rude and petulant, talking back not only to her dad but to her teachers too. At school she’s a bullying delinquent, hanging out with the cool kids and picking on the captain of her track team, Yukina (Nanaha Itose). Seeking escape from her disappointing life, she tells her teacher she’s no interest in high school and plans to get a job, arrogantly refusing to train with her teammates preferring to hang out with the boys playing cards in the shed. 

A chance encounter with Toma in a local supermarket, however, begins to change her perspective. Her polar opposite, Toma is quiet and polite, though his awkward formality perhaps upsets her in his wilful distance after two years apart. Before long she runs into her mother too, discovering not only that her father hid from her the fact that she had remarried and returned to the area, but that she is actually married to Yukina’s dad which is somewhat pouring salt on the wound. Not only is her mother apparently happy, leading the kind of life she wanted to lead as a middle-class housewife, but she has a replacement daughter in Yukina who is everything she currently is not, the archetypal good girl. Bonding with Toma who is overburdened by his mother’s well-meaning ambition for him and dejected that the other kids don’t let him play because he’s no good at sports, Sari decides to run away childishly believing that the two of them can simply move in with grandma to be a family in rejection of their “selfish” parents. 

Sari resented her mother because she was always hounding her to study, perhaps a reflection of her dissatisfaction with their working class existence wanting to ensure her children enjoyed a more comfortable standard of life. Economic pressures do indeed seem to have been the motivating factor in the breakdown of the marriage, Fumi irritated by the exact same qualities in Kenichi which are beginning to drive Sari away, convincing her she’s better off alone than with her irresponsible father who has only casual employment with no prospect of advancement. She yearns for independence, not only for practical freedoms but for the emotional to simply not need to be burdened by disappointment or hurt. “Teams just hold you back” she snaps at her teacher threatening to quit the relay in favour of the solo race. 

Yukina meanwhile has problems of her own, missing her mother who passed away from illness while struggling to accept Fumi’s intrusion into her family home. A climactic event sees her moving towards the centre, claiming Toma as her own little brother while positioning herself as Fumi’s rightful daughter leaving Sari feeling further exiled, unable to process her resentment towards her mother for her abandonment while struggling to accept that her childish belief her parents would get back together and the family would be repaired will not come to pass. Yet it’s their shared love of running which eventually brings the two young women together, no longer rivals but teammates, later perhaps friends and then sisters as Sari comes to acceptance of her complicated family circumstances while realising just how unpleasant she has often been to those around her out of a mistaken attempt to push them all away. “I always ran like I was all alone” Sari admits, no longer running away but passing through her own take over zone, ready to face herself and her grief as she steps into the next stage of the relay race that is life.


Take Over Zone screened as part of Camera Japan 2020.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

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