Every now and then this gig, writing about movies, is an absolute godsend. It’s not that you get to travel the world from the safety of your couch, learning histories, seeing unimagined sights, but that there’s incredible opportunity to be exposed to some of the most incredible, daring storytellers that the art form can offer. Sometimes they appear in the form of mainstream, giant-budgeted endeavors, but, more often than not, the ones that leave your jaw on the floor, that have you giggling incessantly, or that just strike you with incredible awe are the ones you don’t see coming. Enter Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, written by Makoto Ueda, directed/edited/cinematography by Junta Yamaguchi, and featuring theatrical troupe Europe Kikaku. Theirs is a low-budget sci-fi comedy exploring the dangers of knowing the future. The notions are far more fascinating in concept and execution than Christopher Nolan’s TeneT (2020) could ever have attempted. And the film does it all under the appearance of one single tracking shot.
It’s the end of the day, and café owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) is ready to close up and head upstairs to his apartment. While looking for his guitar pick, the nearby monitor he uses to keep an eye on his store remotely broadcasts a voice, his voice. Confused and plenty shocked, Kato looks to see his own face starring back at him, explaining that the monitor Kato is from two minutes in the future and he must come downstairs. By following his own voice, the worrisome and downtrodden Kato finds himself on an odd time-traveling adventure whose repercussions ripple all the way into an unknown future.
The originally titled Droste no Hatede Us was designed in 2020 as the first film project of the theater troupe, and the crowdfunding they set up in order to financially support global screenings netted them over 600% their goal. Having seen Beyond the Infinite, I, too, would gladly give them my money, if only to see what amazing things they can do with it. That’s how affecting this film is. It’s not because it’s super emotional or mind-blowing, but because of how insanely creative they were in making this film. Styled to look like one continuous single tracking shot, Beyond the Infinite is an immersive experience that’s a marvel to behold, even if you can see the seams of the edits. That there’s enough built-in logic to explain the science and logistics of what they do just amplifies the ingeniousness of how they get it done. Take the moment when café worker Aya (Riko Fujitani) and friends Komiya (Gota Ishida), Ozawa (Yoshifumi Sakai), and Tanabe (Masashi Suwa) first learn of the two minute time delay between the home monitor and the café one: immediately amused at the prospect of communicating with themselves, Future Komiya asks Future Tanabe to call out an object that Komiya couldn’t possibly have. When Future Tanabe does, Present Komiya laughs in frustration at the object he now has to pull out of his pocket. The humor doesn’t just come from the object, though, but from the exchange between the identical two sets of actors as they play off of each other. It’s obviously them engaging with a video recording, yet the illusion is perfectly laid via the execution, generating copious amounts of delightful energy.
If the above description was a little confusing, allow a brief explanation of the setup. The story we, the audience, follow is a single linear experience from beginning to end. We don’t jump between the past, present, or future with the characters so much as we experience one timeline of events which are surrounded by the past and future. Though the initial catalytic occurrence is given a mild explanation, what ends up creating the most drama within the story is something called the Droste Effect, which Ueda drew upon for the basis of the time travel phenomenon. In simple terms, the Droste Effect refers to creating an image that contains the image that contains the image and so on. This recursion of images can go on infinitely beyond the scope of human vision and, in the case of the film, enables the characters to move beyond the limitations of two minutes to engage their future selves. Thus the questions arise, “Should you know the future?” and, in the knowing, “Is the future locked?”. More immediately, and more concretely, jostling with the timeline adds a little drama to the otherwise comedic affair, leading up to one of the most hilarious and satisfying “Time Game” exchanges since Bill & Ted fought Chuck De Nomolos in Bogus Journey (1991). Interestingly, where the film gets most interesting is the notion of free will versus predeterminism and the potential destruction of humanity by opting for free will. Sadly, this is the one area where the least amount of time is spent and it’s the most critical aspect of Kato’s character motivation.
The easiest way to describe Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is as a mixture of the hilariously inventive One Cut of the Dead (2017) and Tenet, but that would be far too diminishing a description. It’s got the heart reminiscent of the Bill & Ted films, the creativeness of practical-based F/X movies of yore, and science that actually makes sense. Even when the early repetition starts to grate (we get the idea, y’all), the joy emanating from the characters just brings a smile to your face. Combined with the impressiveness of the detail work within the film, it’s hard not to fall in love. Do make sure to stick through the credits as you get an opportunity to see how the film was made. More info on that below.
Screening during the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival.
For more information on the film, head to the official Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes website.
After you’ve seen the film, make sure to check out this “secret” 18 minute behind the scenes featurette.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.