Droste no hate de bokura
starring Kazunari Tosa, Riko Fujitani, Gôta Ishida, Aki Asakura
screenplay by Makota Ueda
directed by Junta Yamaguchi
by Walter Chaw Junta Yamaguchi's directorial debut Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is zero-budget high-concept done right, a fastball-down-the-middle of a time-travel movie landing right when the concept seemed to have been wrung dry. Logging in at a lean 70 minutes, it doesn't have a trace of fat on it. More, it manages in that brief span to paint fully-fleshed characters, conjure and pay off a romantic-comedy subplot, and juggle a couple of sharp tonal shifts. It's so good because it's so...simple. A strange thing to say about a premise that's kind of mind-breaking as a pair of connected, closed-circuit monitors accidentally creates a temporal wormhole across the span of two minutes, but there you have it. This little masterpiece proves the truism that whatever the plot might be, as long as the characters and their motivations remain legible and relatable, baby, you got a movie. Simple.
Bedraggled cafe owner Kato (Kazunari Tosa), badly in need of a shave and a good night's sleep, bids his employee Aya (Riko Fujinati) a good night, retires to his apartment above his business, and from the monitor he uses as a security camera hears a voice telling him where to find his lost guitar pick. It's his own voice, from two minutes into the future. Of course Kato goes back downstairs and looks at the sister monitor in the cafe just in time to tell Kato in the past where his guitar pick is. Kato's buddy Komiya (Gôta Ishida) shows up and calls some other dudes as well, and then somewhen along the way, Kato musters up the courage to ask the woman (Aki Asakura) who works in the barbershop next door if she'd like to come to his next gig. (He's part of an acoustic duo.) Admittedly, he musters up the courage because, through a sequence of breakneck events, his two-minutes-into-the-future self has told him that she says "yes." But then they seek out a way to look farther into the future than just two minutes--I mean, you can't cheat on horse races or even the lotto with only a two-minute head start. The surprisingly simple solution to the problem is both smart and, once time starts looping on itself, existentially terrifying. Our gang becomes worried about creating a paradox, so they start doing what the future tells them to do instead of exercising whatever free will they have.
That by itself is a paradox, though, isn't it? How do they know the location of the secret treasure, or how to defeat the surprise antagonists--two sets of them? How would they unless they'd already looped a few times and adjusted on the fly after seeing terrible outcomes? They're tangled, the logical contortions of Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, the first feature from a Japanese theatre group; how likely is it that a bottle of ketchup could be so important not once but twice in a single evening? And yet it works. It works because this film, described by its screenwriter, Makoto Ueda, as a puzzle he presented to himself to solve, is in love with process, in thrall to asking what-if questions and watching the answers play out to their absurd conclusions. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes reminds me a lot of Shin'ichirô Ueda's superlative One Cut of the Dead, which was similarly buoyed by its unabashed movie-love, its intimidating and unpretentious smarts. It even pushes the single-take gimmick of that film's first half to the max, dazzling us with seamless edits for its entire runtime. (Shin'ichirô Ueda himself lends his endorsement via a pullquote on the poster.) And like One Cut of the Dead, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is shot through with a streak of humanity: At the end of all the noise, it tells an essential, simple story of how we're burdened by our past and anxiety over our future so much that sometimes we neglect to turn off our devices, meet eyes with another human being, and, you know, close down a late-night cafe with a stranger we'd like to get to know a little better. I really love this movie.