I love the tighter-than-90 minute movie. My Letterboxd watchlist is permanently set on filter setting “film length shortest to highest.” I curate my choice based on the promise that, an hour and a half from now, I can be out and about doing something else. Watching a movie with a runtime over two hours requires strategic planning and a lot more mental space than I care to admit.
Lately, that tighter-than-90 ideal has managed to slink down to a truly compact tighter-than-80. Blame my short attention span or the fact that my full-time watch partner has an even tinier one, but it’s become quite convenient to throw on a feature film that’s not much longer than the Food Network television episodes we frequently defer to. Among my most recent watches have been Satyajit Ray’s The Coward (1965), Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman (2022), and Junta Yamaguchi's micro-budget Japanese time-travel caper, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020).
Clocking in at just 70 minutes, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is shot in a one-take real-time format, with some of the most meticulous time mapping I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Truly living up to the “couple dollars and a dream” genre of filmmaking, Yamaguchi’s pandemic release was shot on a combination of iPhone and Go-Pro. The extremely digital look is obvious, so it’s not as if the film is going to win any film purists’ respect with its 21st century Soderbergh technique. But unlike Soderbergh, the crew didn’t have much of a choice. They had a rather tiny sum to film the high-concept script with a 10-person cast.
The first half of the film is so modest that it might trick you into thinking that the lo-fi look is intentional. Following a coffee shop owner named Kato who discovers that his shop monitor screen shows the future (although only two minutes into it), the film proceeds in a back-and-forth present-and-future cat and mouse chase. Kato discovers his future self speaking to him in his living room, he runs downstairs to the coffee shop to take the place of his future self to speak to his past self. He runs back up to see what else his future self has in store for him, and he runs back down to relay that very same information. He can see the future, but it’s his job to ensure that he does exactly what his future self forecasts. Straightforward in trajectory, yet with space dedicated to explaining its time-bending logic.
Soon, his friends discover his magical system, and, in typical sci-fi innovation-ethics fashion, they rush to take advantage of it. While they scheme to reap the benefits of clairvoyant knowledge, Kato discovers that the future can, indeed, lie.
It is when the brainy friend, Ozawa, suggests creating a permanent loophole that would allow the friends to see even further into the future that the once-unassuming machine-age plot spirals out of control, bringing in some gangsters, a kidnapping plot, and Doctor Who-like time guardians. Structurally and theoretically flawless up to that point, it is in the final fifteen minutes that the fact of the crew’s limited resources begins to seep through the cracks.
Yet, the silly drama somehow makes the experience all the more appealing. Taking a moment to consider how each scene was required to be timed to a tee washes away all doubt about ridiculous effects or character contrivances. Its small scope adds a layer of thoughtful realism to the introduction of the technology, and its enthusiastic performances remind the audience that, at the same time, it’s not to be taken too seriously.
Even if you end the film with reservations about its quality (although I doubt it, as the ending contains one of those brutally clever thematic ruminations that makes the whole experience that much more meaningful), the end credits’ incorporation of behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot will no doubt conjure some degree of admiration. Remembering, too, that the crew had to adjust for the pandemic, it’s pretty incredible that they managed to construct one of the most original and bulletproof time travel theses ever put to film.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a vessel of creativity, heart and resilience. Even without knowing about the circumstances for its conception, it’s hard not to be inspired by its certitude of vision. It’s a movie for people who want to make movies. It’s a movie for people who doubt themselves. It’s a movie for those who cannot trust the best-laid plans, but still try their darndest to improvise, adapt, and overcome. It’s a truly special 70 minutes, and enough to encourage someone to say, “To hell with it! Today, I challenge fate.”
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is streaming on Amazon Prime U.S.