Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

It was way back in 2006 that I was on an international flight heading toward the United States where I first came across a movie which quickly became one of my favorites–my absolute favorite Japanese slapstick time travel comedy, and one of the most talked about on this blog: Summer Time Machine Blues, directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro and written by Makoto Ueda (see here or here, for example).

Now, thanks to another blog I follow here, I’ve became aware of another project that is also written by Ueda, and is a clear winner for my second favorite Japanese time travel comedy–Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. It doesn’t have quite the charm of the earlier project, but boy does it come close.

Spoilers ahead!

The movie is about Kato (Kazunari Tosa), the owner of a café who discovers that the security monitor he has connecting his apartment with the café (he lives above his business) is displaying an image from two minutes in the future.

It’s not long before his friends and co-workers discover this and start finding quirky ways to take advantage of this odd phenomenon. Ultimately they decide to face the monitor (and its camera) face to face with its mirror from the café, create a mirror-with-a-mirror effect where you can see multiple increments of two minutes into the future (or in the past). Soon they are passing messages and information down the chain of time, to both humorous and dangerous results.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is directed by first-time filmmaker Junta Yamaguchi. He tells the story with incredible confidence. It’s quite low-budget, with a limited setting (all in one building), a small cast, and mostly in one extended shot. Or at least, it’s told in a way to simulate one extended shot. This seems to have been possible thanks to the fact that the camera was tiny but extremely clear. In some behind-the-scenes shots visible during the end credits, it looks like the movie is being shot on a cell phone being held by a simply handle, but it seems that in reality the cell phone was just being used as a monitor, and the camera was even tinier.

Of course the “one take” style is a gimmick (as it always is), but it’s amazingly effective at highlighting the illusion that people are communicating to themselves just a moment or two forward or backward in time. It helps make the whole thing incredibly compelling to watch, even as the action frequently become confusing or absurd.

The movie is a pretty successful blend of tones. It’s mostly light-hearted, but there are moments of both legitimate tension, which comes as the friends fall afoul of local gangsters who have an office upstairs from the cafe. There are some brief moments of philosophical inquiry, about the nature of destiny and free-will. There are also moments of heartfelt emotion, as Kato explores a possible future with a Megumi (Aki Asakura), a woman he’s attracted to who works elsewhere in the building.

And of course it’s all covered over with a healthy dose of joyful, comedic silliness, which is especially obvious when two agents from the “Time Bureau” show up to put a stop to things in the movie’s last act.

The two time agents are actually played by veterans of Summer Time Machine Blues–Munenori Nagano and Chikara Honda (also known as Riki Honda). In the older film, they are Soga (the first of the five guys to time travel, and the one who accidentally goes 99 years to the past) and Tamura aka Mushroom (the visitor from the future who kicks the story into motion). As a massive of fan of that older film, but someone whose exposure to modern Japanese films is pretty limited, it was a treat to see those guys again.

Makoto Ueda also wrote and directed a short film called A Little Fugue of Love, which was included on the Blu-ray of Summer Time Machine Blues which my friend Rod recently purchased. The movie is about 15 minutes long and though it tells a completely unique story from Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, one can see almost all the same concepts in play: the one extended take aesthetic, the overlapping time-frames, the awkward romance, and the question of whether we are actually bound to a destiny when our future shows up and attempts to announce itself. It’s interesting to see the different ways the creator explores these ideas.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is probably too small a movie to make that big of a mark on my life, but the impact it has had is wholly positive, and even for its limitations it’s one I’m glad to have watched.

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