Fantasia 2021: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes' Time Travel Plot Surpasses Tenet
Reuben Baron
Remember the scene in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure when Bill and Ted from the present/past talk to Bill and Ted from the future/present? Imagine that scene stretched and expanded upon for an hour and 10 minutes to Tenet-like extremes and that'll give a sense of what Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is like. Produced by the Japanese theatre troupe Europe Kikaku in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the low-budget science-fiction film figured out how to make video conferencing simultaneously cinematically interesting and charmingly comedic.
Set not too far in the future, the computer broadcasting the future and the TV broadcasting from the past are only two minutes apart in the film's timeline. Two minutes, however, is enough time for the characters to travel back and forth between the TV downstairs and the computer upstairs to send messages back and forth to their past/future selves. It's also enough time to create closed loops of information about, say, the location of a missing guitar pick or where to scratch on a lottery ticket.
From this relatively straightforward set-up, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes gets incredibly playful. Wanting to see further into the future than just two minutes, the characters bring the computer downstairs and mirror it with the TV, creating an infinite Droste effect of recurring two-minute intervals. Following the future's advice, however, comes with risks, and Makoto Ueda's screenplay takes turns for both bigger existential questions and surprisingly effective low-budget action thrills.
This all makes for a compelling time travel story. The dialogue is clever with all its necessary repetition, and the actors -- mostly newcomers except for The Tale of Princess Kaguya voice actress Aki Asura as the cafe employee Megumi -- deliver their lines effectively in the cadences of high energy Japanese comedy. All of these strengths, however, are almost secondary to the most mindblowing aspect of Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes -- the way it was filmed.
Shot entirely on an iPhone, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is presented as one continuous shot with the exception of one edit for the title card at the beginning. There are other places where edits were made to create the illusion of continuity, but that illusion, for the most part, holds very strong for most of the film. The accomplishment of director/cinematographer Junta Yamaguchi stands up alongside other great achievements in the growing "single take illusion" genre.
With such extended long shots, there's always a question of what's being accomplished beyond sheer spectacle. In Alfred Hitchcock's Rope or Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman, the point is to recreate the energy of a live theatre piece. In Sam Mendes' 1917, it was to get across a sense of what it's like to experience war in real-time. For Shin'ichiro Ueda's One Cut of the Dead, another Japanese microbudget film that Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is already being compared to, it's the pure joy of filmmaking and showing off how the magic trick is achieved.
The motivation for Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes' style is partially for the sake of theatrical energy, but it also makes its time travel effects all the more impressive. In any other time travel film, we'd know that most effects are the product of clever editing. But, when the editing becomes both minimal and mostly invisible, it genuinely feels like you're watching an actual time paradox happening. After watching it, you'll want to know how on Earth they pulled this off. The filmmakers knew this, as they wisely include behind-the-scenes footage alongside the end credits.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes cost next to nothing compared to the megabudget Tenet, yet it manages to be equally inventive in its portrayal of time travel and far more entertaining to watch. It's also a much better film than Primer, the most famous modern, microbudget time travel film that's celebrated more for its resourceful filmmaking and convoluted timelines than for being an interesting story. Someone needs to license this incredibly likable movie for American release as soon as possible.
Directed by Junta Yamaguchi, Beyond the Infinite Minutes will be available to stream in Canada at Fantasia Fest from August 5-25.