Just when it might have felt like time-travel movies had kind of tried everything, something comes like a breath of fresh air from the future. In Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, which received a special jury award for its “outstanding achievement in filmmaking” at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, director Junta Yamaguchi invigorates genre tropes with newfound comedic potential, leaning into the confusion and chaos of time travel rather than trying to tie up every loose end. Most time-travel movies never really make sense if you think too long about them; no matter how much the storytellers try to explain the rules of time loops and how cause and effect operate in their particular science fiction setting, questions inevitably remain. It is exactly this confusion that Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is intensely aware of, but reaps great comedic potential from, as the characters also try to figure out just what the hell is going on in this strange time loop.
The discovery of time travel seems like it has potentially earth-shattering consequences (or not, again, depending on how each story world defines the amount of control characters have in shaping the future). This film puts this discovery in the hands and computer screen as a very ordinary man: Kazunori Tosa stars as Kato, who lives above the cafe he owns and feels stuck in a dead-end existence playing musical gigs but finding little passion. This pre-existing life is suddenly interrupted when Kato sees a nearly identical image staring back, talking back, to him on his computer monitor. “Hey. It’s me. Apparently, I’m in the future… two minutes into the future…I was just in your shoes.” Somehow, Kato has stumbled upon a two-minute time loop. This tiny lead time means that future Kato has little wisdom to impart on his past self, but what he can, he does; he doesn’t really know what he is doing in terms of any sort of “mission” or purpose, but do it, he must.
While a two-minute glimpse in the future may seem like it offers only limited potential in terms of what the present can gain, thrill shows that these two minutes actually can offer profound comedic potential. The film was born from a sort of an improvisational and experimental do-it-yourself ethos, emerging from an acting workshop and being shot on an iPhone according to Fantasia’s press notes; it is the first feature of the Europe Kikaku theatre group. This story does have a certain theatrical quality to it in terms of its feeling live-ness as it transpires in what appears to be a single take, as we watch the actors race between locations and give a marathon performance. The film exists in a beautiful in-between of precise and painstakingly planned craft (how else would we get those skilled one-take tracking sequences and the intensely thought-out narrative?) and a feeling like the actors are also discovering things along with us.
The characters themselves are agents of experimentation, as they try to understand, and have fun fiddling with their entertaining new discovery. For instance, when a man named Komiye arrives, he, Kato, and the girl at the cafe have a befuddled conversation with Kato’s image on the screen. This sets in motion rapid exchanges between Kato’a place and the cafe, picking up new ensemble members along the way; in the back and forth between the shop and his screen at home, more and more people gather to watch and communicate on this incredible “Time TV..”
There are charmingly funny sequences as they laugh and get excited trying to wrap their heads around all the timey-wimey stuff, using analogies and drawing diagrams to try to understand, but then also experimenting with how far they can stretch this time loop, testing the rules via using multiple screens (as another character, Ozawa, tries to finagle a way to see even farther into the future) or sending messages to their past selves to bring objects into the future. Their experimentations feel equal parts scientific method and slapstick comedy. Kato brings in a philosophical side, as he questions the ethics of time travel, and wonders what is the point of it all. What do we owe to our future selves? Do we want to know what the future holds, because what if we don’t like what we see?
This story could be taken as a metaphor for the difficulties of facing a future that may not be much better than the present, or a message on toying with one’s time and having fun in the moment. It is all some good fun, but also is a mini-masterclass in cinematography and performance, stretching the limits of what filmmakers and actors can create even within structural, spatial, or temporal constraints.
In the science-fiction genre that depends on imagination, but has recently run a bit dry with ways to make this time travel story different from those that came before, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes brings a new level of creativity and experimental spirit. It starts where some films have gone before, but then keeps saying “yes and” to the initial premise to create something entirely novel.