BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES
Directed by Junta Yamaguchi
I miss watching movies as a kid: sat in awe, wondering how the heck the filmmakers did something. After seeing Twister at the cinema, I remember asking my dad if the actors really drove into tornados. Now, older and wiser, I know it comes down to clever practical/ digital effects. Still, sometimes I see something that brings me back to that state – the sort of thing that shows the magic of movies and, for its duration, makes me believe. Director Junta Yamaguchi’s debut is a fine example.
The premise is deceptively simple. One night a shy café owner, Kato, discovers that the TV on his shop floor shows images from two minutes in the future, and it appears to be linked to the monitor in his apartment above. The version of himself in the apartment (the present) can find his guitar pick thanks to the version from downstairs. Afterwards, he feels compelled to go downstairs and relay the same information and round things off – easy enough. Now let’s see what happens when his friends get involved and start to stretch the phenomenon beyond its logical limits. With elements from films such as Primer, Twelve Monkeys and Time Cop, folks who like wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff will love it. There are loops, paradoxes and other such complications aplenty that are just about comprehensible since we’re only following one set of cast members. What makes the story work so well is that Kato’s friends, Komiya and Tanabe, are as keen as the viewers to test this thing – they don’t want to switch it off either. He represents a part of us that knows it’s a bad idea, but they represent the much louder part that wants to learn more.
The results are often hilarious, and very organic. It helps that they handle their discovery as real people may – “hey, what about if we put two monitors opposite each other then can we double it to four minutes” etc. Step by step, the gang sees what they can use the link between present and future. It takes a lot to write and direct this kind of story properly. But, to do so in a single shot (outside the brief pre-credit scene) makes for a remarkable cinematic achievement. The camera lingers around them like the eye of God – reinforcing that they’re part of something much bigger: minor variables in space and time. It’s an absolute joy following the characters, uninterrupted, as they interact with themselves from moments earlier or later in the movie. Each new development is fun and only adds to how tightly choreographed the whole film must have been. Timelines in timelines unfold in front of us in real-time. It’s an inventive, intricate script in which every tiny element comes back, in some form or another, with astounding attention to detail. It’s never complicated, but there’s so much to it that I can see people wanting to rewatch it immediately to catch all the callbacks.
What it’s not is a plot-driven film. For the most part, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is concept-driven: an intimate, self-contained experiment with a small cast of five. The bulk of the film’s short 70-minute running time is the group of friends exploring the rules and seeing what they can do with their monitors. There isn’t a lot of conflict or tension, but there’s plenty to enjoy as it unfolds over and over again. We get some attempts to up the stakes in the second half, with a slightly rushed plot about a local gangster – but even here, the sense of danger comes second to having fun with the concept. It’s not all mucking around, though. There’s heart to it, and writer Makoto Ueda uses the metaphysical premise to explore inner space, leading to unexpectedly tender moments between cast members. A sombreness runs through it from the start, with the technology giving characters a logical reason to question their futures: their hopes, dreams, and even the very existence of free will.
Obviously, these are fictional characters, following a script – something anchored by them being presented on screens within screens (and later screens within screens within screens), and conforming to pre-set dialogue based on what they’ve seen themselves do before. But what if that’s all any of us are – responding passively to circumstances? It’s hard to include determinism in a movie and still keep an audience interested – paradoxically, we want people in scripted entertainment to have agency for the drama to matter. To break this illusion would make it seem pointless. However, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a small film that successfully asks these big, existential questions in a way that fascinates rather than frustrates. An awe-inspiring sci-fi and a welcome reminder of what it feels like to be young. I don’t need to be able to see into the future to know folks will love it. It’s almost inevitable.
Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes shows at FrightFest 2021. For more information, and tickets (while they last), see here.