Ingenuity has always been the name of the game in low-budget filmmaking; scrimping and saving and stretching what you have to fill out the biggest canvas possible. Under the right direction, hundreds can look like thousands, and thousands can look like millions. But none of that really matters if you don’t have a killer hook, and a script that’ll actually see you through. Enter Junta Yamaguchi and Makoto Ueda’s delightfully sunny sci-fi Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes; a positively genius little time-travel comedy that plays to its strengths, putting story and concept front and centre and mastering the art of the DIY head-scratcher.
Playing out entirely in real-time, in one long, sweeping take (a gimmick that’s, for once, totally central to the plot), Ueda’s script starts as a simple twist on the Droste effect – the famous picture-in-picture-in-picture illusion that’s on everything from boxes of raisins to M.C. Esher paintings – before spinning out into a wild, hell-for-leather, Douglas Adams-esque caper.
A cafe owner discovers that he can see two minutes into the future and communicate with his future self through a video link between the computer monitor in his apartment, and a TV downstairs in his cafe. But when he gets his friends and neighbours involved, it doesn’t take long for things to go ever so slightly tits up, as the group start to test the parameters and rules of their new dimensional anomaly.
There’s certainly an amateurish quality to the production here, but like the very best of them, director Yamaguchi rises above it in the cleverest of ways. For one thing, it’s Ueda’s script that does most of the talking, kicking off with a very basic premise that snowballs beautifully into something even wilder and funnier, without ever sacrificing the grounded set-up. It’s the kind of plotting that switches gears so regularly, your eyes stay pinned to the screen.
And for the other, Yamaguchi (serving as his own cinematographer) milks his expressive long takes very cleverly, choreographing the actors tightly, constantly re-framing and keeping his camera moving and the drama always dynamic. But it’s not until a few short behind-the-scenes clips that play over the credits that we really get full sight of how this extraordinary dance all came together. I won’t spoil it here, but when you see the sparseness of the crew and the true no-frills nature of the filming, it’s very humbling indeed. Exactly the sort of experience that makes you want to snatch up whatever camera gear you have and dash out and shoot something.
Between its nuts and bolts, DIY vibe and happy-go-lucky tone, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes isn’t a million miles away from another cult Japanese gem, One Cut of the Dead, either. But while the comparisons are certainly there, this one feels like another beast entirely; an even more stripped-back, even more ingenious celebration of the absolute basics of filmmaking and storytelling. Just as crowd-pleasing, but with an even smaller canvas to play with.
Mind-blowing in every sense of the word, from its twisty time-jumping narrative, to its incredibly impressive no frills production; Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes should be taught in film schools all over the world as the absolute apex of the micro-budget form. Ingenuity on a new level.