A small curio from Japan, Non-Stop begins with the narrative stylings and iconography made popular in America by Quentin Tarantino, takes a sudden u-turn into the existential worlds of Vladimir and Estragon, and even Sisyphus, and then reverts back into Tarantino country. That ends up being one turn too many, in a film that finds its best moments running in a straight line. Literally. For most of its duration, Non-Stop spends its time observing three men running after one another. What begins as a simple chase scene slowly turns into something much different-a chase scene with no finish line. Where director Sabu and writer Tamaki Asawa are heading is towards something close to grace.
It all begins with a mousy and downtrodden short-order chef named Yasuda (Tomoro Taguchi), who decides to rob a bank as a means of empowerment. After forgetting his mask, he shoplifts a new one, and is discovered by the convenience-store clerk. The clerk, Aizawa (Diamond Yukai), chases Yasuda out of the store and into the heart of the city, where they stumble into a member of the Yakuza, Takeda (Shinichi Tsutsumi), which causes the accidental shooting of a bystander. In a fit of rage, Takeda becomes part of the chase. The filmmakers treat these events in an elliptical fashion, using flashbacks and scene repetitions to fill in character details and inform certain scenes from different angles. And then the three characters start running. And running.
Sabu and Asawa wish to make literal the truism that the journey, and not the destination, is the most important thing. It's a worthy effort, but they aren't quite dedicated enough to the storytelling implications of that goal. Sisyphus keeps pushing the rock up the hill, and it rolls back down; Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait for Godot, and he never comes. Satisfying narrative resolution is not the proper endgame here. Instead of interspersing the chase with a subplot involving Takeda's Yakuza brothers planning a massacre as vengeance for their murdered boss, the filmmakers should have spent significantly more time with the three main characters. Because it's in the minds and spirits of those three men where Non-Stop has its purpose. Non-Stop ends in a flurry of ill-defined thugs pointing guns at one another in flimsily established face-offs, and none of it supports the story the film wants to tell. When Yasuda, in a moment of exhausted euphoria, expresses the utter joy he found in simply running, it lacks the punch it should have held, because Yasuda's emotional life, and that of the other two runners, is so spare and artlessly conveyed. (The character-defining flashbacks and fantasy sequences are flat and clumsy.) The filmmakers might have been onto something if they had simply realized that it's the people performing the journey who matter, not the journey itself.