Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes (Droste no hate de bokura)

Japan (2020) Dir. Junta Yamaguchi

“Time may change me, But I can’t trace time”

We all want to know the future despite many saying they don’t, it is a natural instinct of us curious humans. Normally, we seek to learn of a time way ahead of our present to discover if our fortunes, be it financial or romantic, are any better. Is there any reward in knowing about the immediate future?

Café owner and aspiring musician Kato (Kazunari Tosa) leaves his assistant Aya (Riko Fujitani) to lock up as he retreats to his flat above the café to practice his guitar. Unable to find his plectrum, Kato is given a hint by himself via his computer monitor, which has not only somehow linked to the TV in the café but also, the Kato there is apparently two minutes in the future.

Kato returns to the café and has the same conversation with his past self in his flat. Aya and Kato’s friends Komiya (Gota Ishida), Tanabe (Masashi Suwa), and Ozawa (Yoshifumi Sakai) also witness this miracle. Having seen the possibilities a little future knowledge can yield, the group decide to milk this for all it is worth, except for pessimist Kato.

Trust me when I say the plot of Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes make more sense when watching it than it does reading it, yet as dizzying as this multi-timeline romp sounds it is not the film’s greatest strength. Director Junta Yamaguchi takes the ultimate leap of faith in making this premise work by shooting the bulk of the film in one single take –  well, that is the impression given anyway, the “making of” feature in the Blu-ray extras reveals otherwise but the editing is so tight and precise you wouldn’t notice at all.

Micro budget films usually suffer from their cheapness unless the director is not just a visionary but also knows how to work within such limitations, which applies here. One can happily forego dissecting and scrutinising the science behind this anomaly since it essentially doesn’t matter – Yamaguchi, writer Makoto Ueda, and the dedicated cast all pull together to make this an infectiously fun yet perceptive experience.

Sadly, I can’t expand too much on the actual story as that will require a blow-by-blow spoilerific account of every scene, but I can flesh out the above précis a little more. Kato doesn’t want to know about the future for reason explained at the end; therefore, he is reluctant to take advantage of his time hopping TV.

Encouraged by Aya and future Kato, he asks hairdresser neighbour and crush Megumi (Aki Asakura) to his band’s upcoming gig but she declines; yet two minutes earlier we saw future Kato triumphantly declaring Megumi had accepted! Was he lying? Not exactly but this is just one great example of how complicated things can get and a testament to the detailed writing of Ueda, who also wrote and directed the short film this is an expanded version of, Howling (also in the extras).

Unfortunately, the others predictably succumb to greed and ponder ways to profit from this phenomenon. First, Ozawa works out if they place the two screens in front of each other they can create a mise en abyme – hence the Droste effect reference in the original Japanese title – to send messages to themselves from further in the future. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

You’ll have to watch the film yourself to find out, but I am sure you’ll find it worthwhile. In case this being a Japanese film puts your off, might I entice you a bit by comparing the future messages premise to that of Bill & Ted? The only difference is Kato and co. never meet their other selves in person, and the two minutes gap (or four minute as things progress) make this immediate and less contrived, but still head spinning if you try to discern any scientific plausibility.

It is also surprising how the repetition isn’t tedious because they is a cogent reason for it, with the bonus marvel of the cast seeing themselves repeat their actions yet are none the wiser despite having just performed them! One can’t help derive some humour from this, but I’m sure most people react the same way seeing themselves on camera so it’s not that much of a stretch I suppose.

A long night for Yamaguchi, who handled the camerawork on his iPhone (which must have one heck of a battery), his crew, and the committed cast, this was actually filmed over ten days in a café in Tokyo but rehearsed to within an inch of its life. Every scene or segment of a scene has to be two minutes in length so timing is crucial, and the cast were extremely regimented in hitting their cues at the same time or acting as the same pace as not to disrupt the flow.

Yamaguchi enlists the Europe Kikaku theatre group as his cast and they are all fabulous, putting themselves through the arduous rehearsals to ensure the performances match the exacting needs of the script. Even with a 70-minute runtime, they are able to bring a level of personality and likeability out of their characters, bolstered by the buoyancy of the physical comedy.

Such effort deserved our utmost respect even if the story doesn’t appeal, which it should, as it is quietly acute in its musing of human reactions to having a sort of domestic time machine in our hands. Where this should be cynical in tone and end on a cautionary note, it is breezy and oddly pragmatic, and only leans into fantasy territory near the end, but this is less eye rolling than it sounds.

Don’t be fooled by the slight run time, Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes packs a hell of a lot of ingenuity, creativity, technical genius, and sheer joyous entertainment into that time. And if you miss something first time, well, you can always go back and watch it again…

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