Last August, fresh from the premiere of time-bending action thriller Tenet, Tom Cruise giddily proclaimed: “Big movie. Big screen. Loved it.” Nolan’s movie may have indeed been “big’” but it was a far cry from the industry-saving event so much anticipatory coverage had promised. Instead, its action set-pieces were filtered through an abstruse and inscrutable puzzle-box, navigated by a barely-developed character referred to only as the Protagonist. Its aloofness aside, Tenet remains a fascinating example of auteurist expression and excess, but I couldn’t help but think through its deficiencies while watching the delightful micro-budget sci-fi Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. Much like Tenet, this gem from director Junta Yamaguchi and writer Makoto Ueda features a complicated time-travel gimmick that grows in complexity until its mechanisms become too overwhelming to track. Yet, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is deliciously grounded in both its presentation (an imitation of a single continuous take), its banal double location setting (a café and a small room above it), a charming cast of goofball characters, and most importantly a heartfelt core that never lets the focus slip away into the tangled net of its sci-fi contrivances.
The setup is straightforward even if the time-travel conceit is a bit tricky to unwind: Kato (Kazunari Tosa) runs a coffee shop and lives in the apartment above it, and one day, walking up to his room after work, he is shocked to discover a version of himself broadcasting from the computer screen. This second-Kato, who appears on the monitor with the same outfit and seems to be video-chatting from the shop downstairs, explains that he’s somehow communicating from two minutes in the future, helps first-Kato find a guitar pick, and urges him to go back downstairs. Yamaguchi’s camera, which has diligently followed from the shop to his room, now fluidly trails him back down without cutting away as he rushes downstairs to unravel the mystery. Lo and behold when he returns to the shop, its television screen is now broadcasting a view of his bedroom with his past self in tow. Staring at this paradox in befuddlement, he repeats the dialogue that “future” Kato had told him just two minutes prior, now becoming the one to help “past” Kato find his guitar pick and urge him downstairs. Soon, Kato is joined by co-worker Megumi (Aki Asakura) and a group of curious friends who attempt to puzzle out these time-travel mechanics together, with the ridiculousness ramping to an extreme once they decide to bring the monitor from upstairs down to the cafe and point it at the television creating an infinite time loop in an attempt to grab further paltry two minutes on offer.
The brilliant gimmick of its single-take construction — the film is a composite of numerous takes but the one-take illusion is seamless throughout — fits the conceit perfectly, giving a sense of structure and continuity as we repeatedly follow the characters going up and down the stairway never knowing what they will discover on the other end. Meanwhile, the farcical tone keeps things light even as things become Tenet-level heady. While Nolan’s self-serious brooding becomes frustrating once you lose the thread of his escalating time-travel mechanics, Yamaguchi’s adventure seems to only get funnier as the time-loop spirals out of its characters’ comprehension and control. The greatest strength of Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, however, is its sweetness, a quality that never gets lost amidst the intricate brain-melting substructure that must have made the act of filming a logistical nightmare of interlaced two-minute increments. Halfway through the adventure, a light romantic thread is introduced and spools itself around the gimmick driving the action. Whatever weaknesses reveal themselves in the clunky final reveal or the wildly spiraling complexities of the gimmick are mollified by a spry 70-minute runtime, a charismatic cast, and a persistent infectious charm. Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes may be a “small” film, but it is exactly the type of lightning-in-a-bottle genius that will eventually get processed into a watered-down American remake. So you should definitely catch it before that happens.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2021 — Dispatch 4.