What is your favorite gimmick? Surely you have one. Some slight of hand, some formula of movies that is inherently appealing, a region or genre or time period of intense personal interest, perhaps a storytelling device that will always be a compelling proposition. There must be something you love consistently about the movies, dearest reader, that has brought you to this rarefied place where you read intently about small Japanese films. We must all have specialized interests to have gotten here. At risk of squaring my tastes formally around one brand, I am a Groundhog Day enabler. I’ll enable any Groundhog Day picture with due or undue attention (please note, I have no links available for “undue attention”). I’ll probably give such a film a slightly rave review for pandering so directly to my core interests, of cinema as a place where memory keeping is safely guarded. Where our traumas and pasts can reflect different outcomes for a brighter future. And I’ll keep reviewing these fascinating capsules of self will overcoming a foreboding sense of determinism. They do give me so much hope.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes gives me so much hope. It gives me so much hope in a few different ways. It’s a small film from Japan, first of all. It gets to experiment as freely as it wishes to within its own sandbox, the edges of which only it gets to define. It’s a short feature, clocking only 70 minutes, and using all of that time to reflect back its own unique perception of relativity, of what we do with our time, and how we interface with technology. It’s a one-shot film. The one-shot is its formal method of delivery. It does not exhibit much cleverness in hiding its cuts. What is important is that it implies a continuous run of time and does not leave its subjects or their situation for any reason. Perhaps that draws a meaningful parallel to another playfully experimental small Japanese film, Shin’ichirō Ueda’s 2017 zombie comedy, One Cut of the Dead. The fascinating thing is that the one-shot filmmaking is not even Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes‘ primary method of experimentation. That’s all down to one thing the film does extraordinarily well and keeps well-balanced despite all of the complications that are implied. The standout feature are its Groundhog Day machinations.
Perhaps that’s putting too fine of a point on it. On the Groundhog Day of it all. Two Minutes is uniquely inventive. The formula is stretched to a breaking point here. A cafe owner closes up shop for the day. He goes upstairs to his apartment and discovers something startling on his television. It’s him, two minutes in the future. His future self advises him on what to do next. He runs downstairs and advises his past self with all the new information he’s learned. Eventually, a group of friends have collected at the cafe, they’ve brought the second television downstairs, and have pointed them at each other, creating an endless time loop, where they can see far into the future. It’s all novel invention and experimenting within the means of a strict budget. Here’s where the film gets a little shaky. They foresee a violent event, and spend the second half of the film trying to prevent it from happening, and navigating the event in such a way that they might change their projected future.
The film gets a little silly and weird in some places. There are aliens who come down and want the technology. They have funny ’50s Sci-Fi looking guns. Some of the characters do strange things with their futuristic discovery. The logic doesn’t always align perfectly in practice. And yet, for 70 daring minutes, the film is wildly playful within the framework of its own invention. Director Junta Yamaguchi balances so many ideas at once. It’s downright impressive how thoroughly well-conceived it all is. How it plays so well from conception to realization. You wouldn’t know it’s an early feature from the director, only his second, and the first that’s likely to really be seen. It feels like a hidden gem, a bright spot in the crowded and wonderful Fantasia International Film Festival lineup, sure to delight audiences and eventually find a very small and loving cult following. I’d like to start that cult. I’ve seen the future of budget Japanese films and it’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes.