Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes has its North American Première on demand at Fantasia 2021
Junta Yamaguchi’s feature debut Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes opens – like films as otherwise varied as Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainess (2017) and Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead (2017) – with an elaborate and mobile single take, as the camera drifts from a quiet evening street scene, to the barber’s shop where Megumi (Aki Asakura) works with her father, to the café next door where owner (and guitarist) Kato (Kazunari Tosa) is closing up with waitress Aya (Riko Fujitani), and then tracking Kato as he heads upstairs to his apartment on the first floor, and closes the door behind him.
Significantly, this sequence, leading up to the film’s title card as the door slams shut, lasts exactly two minutes, and so serves not only as a dry run for the rest of Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes – which, following that title, is all shot in a second fluid single take – but also as a graphic reminder to the viewer of how long 120 seconds are (and feel), and how much (and little) can happen in them. For while the original Japanese title Droste no hate de bokura translates as “We Are At The End of Droste”, the film’s English title spells out clearly the primacy of the two-minute period – and from here on in, it will become the unit measure of everything that happens in the film.
In his apartment, while Kato is searching for his guitar pick, his future self appears on his computer monitor, tells him where the pick is (“I learnt that from the future too”), and informs him, “Your monitor and the shop’s TV are linked with a two-minute delay. So come down here and explain this to yourself now. It’ll make sense soon.” Kato heads down to the TV in the shop and relays the same information to his earlier self upstairs in the apartment, as a loop is formed, with past and future in mediated communication with each other, and Kato constantly having to play catch-up with what he already will have done. Makoto Ueda’s script unfolds as a gradual primer in time paradoxes, allowing us – along with Kato, Aya, their friends Komiya (Gota Ishida), Tanabe (Masashi Suwa), Ozawa (Yoshifumi Sakai), and eventually Megumi – to learn step by step the ramifying implications of their time-staggered adventures. Every time the plot’s mechanics start making sense, a new complicating factor is added.
Reluctant hero Kato just wants to stop and to return to his old life where the future – and his prospects with Megumi – remain unforeseen. Komiya and Tanabe reflect the nervous excitement of the situation and, though anxious, leap at every opportunity dangled before them with little thought for the consequences. Ozawa adopts an analytic and scientific attitude to the ‘Time TVs’, experimenting with their properties and finding ways to break through the two-minute limit. Aya is determined to ensure that any contradiction in the timeline is avoided, and (with Ozawa) manages the others’ movements like a film director. Together, all these different attitudes in dialogue with each other modulate our own response to what is unfolding, even as, ironically, neither the characters nor we can ever quite see what is coming next. It is an absolute triumph of convoluted writing, while the single take, shot by Yamaguchi on an iPhone and having eventually to accommodate nested layerings of multiple screens (in a lagged Droste effect) all in time-leaping conversation with each other, will leave the viewer absolutely bewildered as to how on earth it was all set up and carried off. The sheer craft deployed to tell this twisted story simply defies the imagination.
Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes combines elements from Peter Hyams’ Timecop (1994), Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004) and Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu (2006), but is for the most part a breezy affair, playing amiable games with the narrative possibilities of its sci-fi premise, and waiting for its third act before introducing criminal and cosmic threat to an otherwise highly contained, largely comic scenario. Although alluding to apocalypse and eschatology, the film’s view of the universe is for the most part benign and fittingly providential, with every character and every random-seeming prop eventually playing its due part in producing a perfectly staged outcome. Here the future, as something mostly unavoidable and easily misunderstood, becomes a trap that controls (and indeed scripts) the present, and is perhaps after all better left unknown. For that, all Kato has to do is turn the TV off, and live his life blind to what the future holds. As such, Yamaguchi’s film not only offers dizzying feature-length fantasy escapism on our own screens, but also shows (and reaffirms) the human condition beyond those recursive two minutes. We are left, precisely, unsure what the future holds for Kato and Megumi – and that is where cinema (contrived, elaborated, prescribed) ends, and real life begins.
strap: In Junta Yamaguchi’s breezy single-take, multiple-timeline puzzler, the future proves hard to resist
© Anton Bitel