Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Japan, 2020)
Imagine you could see two minutes into the future. What could you do with that information? Well, perhaps not much – likely you’ll still be reading this review – but for the boys and girls in Yunta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, a short glimpse into the future is all they need to change their lives forever. Yamaguchi’s debut feature is a tour de force in independent film making and one of the most innovative science fiction films in recent years.
After a long day’s work at his café, Kato (Kazunari Tosa) retires to his apartment to rest and practice his guitar. Suddenly, his computer monitor turns on and a strange figure starts talking to him. It turns out that his conversation partner is himself from 2 minutes into the future, talking through the computer downstairs at the café. Astonished and perplexed, the present Kato must now go back downstairs and repeat the same conversation with his past self to avoid any temporal paradoxes that might arise. Things get out of hand when his friends find out and try to exploit this effect to their benefit, despite Kato’s discomfort with the situation. With the help of some abnormally long extension cords, they place the two monitors next to each other, effectively extending the two-minute gap to infinity. From winning lotto scratchers to finding bundles of cash hidden in the garbage, the group’s experiment leads them to significant gains, but also many risks and disappointments.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a film composed of a simple recipe: a talented filmmaker, an iPhone, a group of friends, and a killer idea. Running a tight 70 minutes (5 minutes of which are outtakes), the filmmakers manage to craft an absolutely original time-travel story crafted with great skill and surgical precision. If limitations spark creativity, the filmmakers certainly had it made for themselves. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes operates under very strict rules: it’s in real time and in one uninterrupted take (or at least edited to look that way), it takes place in single location (the apartment building over the café), and the story itself must consistently adhere to the rules of time-travel established by the film. As impressive as these technical achievements are (the planning alone must have been painstaking), this film’s greatest asset is the charm of its story and character. On a philosophical level the film explores the concepts of determinism, fate, free-will, chaos theory, and how such concepts may affect the lives of normal human beings. On an emotional level, however, Beyond is also a romantic comedy, with the main focal point being Kato and Megumi (Aki Asakura), his perennial crush and next door neighbour. Despite the film’s brevity, their relationship manages fully develops from cool detachment (on Megumi’s behalf) to a budding romance that makes them defy even the fabric of time itself. The character motivations are not only clear, but also captivating and delightful, grounding the complex plot and raising the stakes of their journey.
Another thing Beyond handles expertly is exposition. High concept science fiction like this often requires lengthy exposition, which in less-than-capable hands can drag the viewer out of the story. In making Beyond, director Yamaguchi and screenwriter Makoto Ueda adhere to the principle of showing rather than telling. The audience experiences the temporal anomaly for the first time just like the characters and follows them along in their trials and experiments. This, along with the light-hearted antics of the characters ensures that we’re never bored. And just before it all gets too repetitive, the first hiccup is introduced, keeping the characters as well as the audience on their toes.
An aspect that perhaps betrays the film’s amateur origins and minuscule budget is the cinematography and camerawork, which are lacklustre to say the least. It may not matter once you’re engrossed into the story, but for the discerning viewer who appreciates the visual spectacle of moving pictures, Beyond has very little to offer in that regard. Whereas other movies (e.g. Tangerine or Unsane) find creative ways to overcome the challenges of filming on a smartphone, Beyond is content to simply point the camera at the actors as needed.
Despite these few shortcomings, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a breath of fresh in a sea of stagnating science fiction in Asian cinema. It’s powerful, unique, passionate, and above all, earnest in its attempts to experiment with the genre without sacrificing entertainment and fun. One of the best films of the year.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand from Third Window Films.