“We made the film in seven days, shooting non-stop from six in the evening to six in the morning. It was hell. We were always tired. And the cast and crew were always picking on me because my brain would just go completely dead at 2am every day.” Japanese film-maker Junta Yamaguchi is talking about his first feature film, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, which was shot almost entirely inside a real cafe in Kyoto. “We couldn’t film anything during their opening hours.”
But Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes isn’t your average small-scale indie film. It’s a nicely innovative time-travel yarn that asks: in our world of remote working and Zoom calls, what if the face staring back at us from our computer was a version of ourself two minutes in the future? It’s also the latest example of the nagamawashi (long-shot) film, the micro-genre currently putting no-budget Japanese cinema on the map after the success of One Cut of the Dead – the 2017 zombie horror-comedy that became an international cult sensation, grossing over $30m (£22m) worldwide from a $25,000 budget.
Ostensibly filmed in a single continuous shot, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes was made for JPY 3m, or just under £20,000 and follows Kato, an amateur musician who discovers that a live video stream on his PC is, in fact, being cast by a near-future version of himself from the cafe beneath his apartment. Kato and his friends bring the “time TV” downstairs to the cafe to face the monitor broadcasting the stream and pandemonium ensues, creating a Droste effect that multiplies the time vortex taking place.
Studio Ghibli are now our rivals
Yamaguchi is speaking from his home in Kyoto over Zoom (no disturbances to the space-time continuum on this occasion) and says that, like almost everyone involved in Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, he is a member of Europe Kikaku, a Kyoto theatre group, and the cafe is a place they regularly visit. (Yamaguchi waves the menu: “Organic coffee, vegan hamburgers, and katsu curry and rice.”) Financial strictures meant Yamaguchi was the film’s cinematographer, camera operator and editor, as well as director.
Yamaguchi says that Back to the Future was the group’s biggest influence, but it was the “intricate and precise long-take camerawork” from films like Birdman, 1917 and Alfred Hitchock’s 1948 real-time classic Rope that inspired Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes’ form. The limited technological setup was a creative choice as well as a financial one: Yamaguchi shows off a camera no bigger than a Tamagotchi. “You can get close to the cast – like, five centimetres away – and take a really good picture,” he says. The camera was strapped to the back of a smartphone, which was used as a handheld monitor so Yamaguchi could watch the footage back as he followed the actors.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes premiered at Tollywood, a 46-seat micro-cinema in Tokyo that specialises in sci-fi and animation (“literally the size of my living room,” says Adam Torel, managing director of the film’s UK distributors, Third Window) and arrived in the middle of the pandemic: due to social distancing measures, there were only 12 seats available. But Japan’s state of emergency worked to the film’s advantage: with mainstream film production severely curtailed, it bagged a slot at Toho Cinemas, one of the biggest chains in Japan.
Since then, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes has gone global, picking up awards and nominations at festivals in Sitges, Brussels and Montreal. “Studio Ghibli are now our rivals,” says Yamaguchi. “I thought this was a niche, fun film, but it went worldwide. I never expected this to happen.”
• Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is out now on Blu-Ray.