Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (ドロステのはてで僕ら, Junta Yamaguchi, 2020)

If you had the opportunity to talk to your future or past self, what would you want to say to them? There are many advantages to having some knowledge of things still to come, finding out next week’s winning lottery numbers for example or who’s going to win the Grand National, but on the other hand mightn’t you start to feel as if your life has no freedom or purpose if you find yourself compelled to do exactly as your future self advised? That’s something the future-hating hero of Junta Yamaguchi’s farcical time travel comedy Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (ドロステのはてで僕ら, Droste no Hate de Bokura) can’t help feeling as he finds himself trapped in an infinite loop of communication with the him from two minutes previously. 

Granted, getting knowledge of what’s going to happen in two minutes is not actually that useful. Cafe assistant Aya (Riko Fujitani) makes a point of asking her future self what the next era is going to be after Reiwa ends forgetting that it is almost certainly still Reiwa in two minutes’ time. Then again, it could help with very short term decisions such as whether or not to confess your feelings to a crush or which spots to scratch on your scratch card to win the best prizes, but maybe knowing only the immediate consequences of your actions isn’t very helpful either. Let’s say your future self finds a bunch of money and tells you to go get it, only the money belonged to gangsters and now you have a big problem with a two-minute head start. And then, can you really trust your future self? Maybe they aren’t being completely honest with you for reasons you may well understand in two minutes’ time. In any case, maybe you have better things to do than be struck in an infinite dialogue loop parroting back what you’ve just been told by your future self to your past self. Maybe you should learn to live in the moment. 

That’s something cafe owner Kato (Kazunari Tosa) has had trouble doing, later confessing that he hates the idea of knowing what lies ahead largely because he over invested in conspiracy theories and prophesies about the end of the world and therefore failed to plan very much for his future. His friends, however, are childishly excited by the discovery that his upstairs TV is linked to the downstairs with a two-minute delay, realising they can extend its range through the “Droste” effect to send themselves messages from further into the future, but then again how long do they really want to keep all this up slavishly reenacting the same conversations afraid of deviating from the original path lest they create a time paradox or provoke some other kind of disaster. They find themselves trapped in the middle as if the present no longer existed and had become merely a conduit between an extremely near future and very recent past. 

Yamaguchi captures their farcical dilemma with an ironic immediacy, filming with an elaborate one shot conceit that adds to the sense of wonder as the gang find themselves continually running upstairs and down to talk to themselves from either side of the time divide. The uncanny absurdity is the film’s greatest asset, placing this extremely bizarre scientific anomaly in the centre of an ordinary hipster cafe run by a guy who really wants to be a musician and is too shy to ask out the girl who works in the hairdresser’s next-door (Aki Asakura). By the time a pair of strange-looking gentlemen turn up claiming to be from the time travel police insisting that the guys stop all this nonsense before they cause a serious problem in the space time continuum you might come to sympathise with Kato’s resentment in feeling as if the future is controlling him but then there are always unexpected ways to rebel against fate and who knows, maybe your romantic destiny will work out after all with a little old-fashioned conversation only tangentially assisted by sci-fi hijinks. A charmingly whimsical take on time travel shenanigans and their existential dilemmas, Yamaguchi’s meticulously plotted farce is an indie gem.  


Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes streams in Germany 1st to 6th June as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Girl in the Sunny Place (陽だまりの彼女, Takahiro Miki, 2013)

girl in the sunny placeThe “jun-ai” boom might have been well and truly over by the time Takahiro Miki’s Girl in the Sunny Place (陽だまりの彼女, Hidamari no Kanojo) hit the screen, but tales of true love doomed are unlikely to go out of fashion any time soon. Based on a novel by Osamu Koshigaya, Girl in the Sunny Place is another genial romance in which teenage friends are separated, find each other again, become happy and then have that happiness threatened, but it’s also one that hinges on a strange magical realism born of the affinity between humans and cats.

25 year old Kosuke (Jun Matsumoto) is a diffident advertising executive living a dull if not unhappy life. Discovering he’s left it too late to ask out a colleague, Kousuke is feeling depressed but an unexpected meeting with a client brightens his day. The pretty woman standing in the doorway with the afternoon sun neatly lighting her from behind is an old middle school classmate – Mao (Juri Ueno), whom Kosuke has not seen in over ten years since he moved away from his from town and the pair were separated. Eventually the two get to know each other again, fall in love, and get married but Mao is hiding an unusual secret which may bring an end to their fairytale romance.

Filmed with a breezy sunniness, Girl in the Sunny Place straddles the line between quirky romance and the heartrending tragedy which defines jun-ai, though, more fairytale than melodrama, there is still room for bittersweet happy endings even in the inevitability of tragedy. Following the pattern of many a tragic love story, Miki moves between the present day and the middle school past in which Kosuke became Mao’s only protector when she was mercilessly bullied for being “weird”. Mao’s past is necessarily mysterious – adopted by a policeman (Sansei Shiomi) who found her wandering alone at night, Mao has no memory of her life before the age of 13 and lacks the self awareness of many of the other girls, turning up with messy hair and dressed idiosyncratically. When Kousuke stands up to the popular/delinquent kids making her life a misery, the pair become inseparable and embark on their first romance only to be separated when Kosuke’s family moves away from their hometown of Enoshima.

“Miraculously” meeting again they enjoy a typically cute love story as they work on the ad campaign for a new brassiere collection which everyone else seems to find quite embarrassing. As time moves on it becomes apparent that there’s something more than kookiness in Mao’s strange energy and sure enough, the signs become clear as Mao’s energy fades and her behaviour becomes less and less normal.

The final twist, well signposted as it is, may leave some baffled but is in the best fairytale tradition. Maki films with a well placed warmth, finding the sun wherever it hides and bathing everything in the fuzzy glow of a late summer evening in which all is destined go on pleasantly just as before. Though the (first) ending may seem cruel, the tone is one of happiness and possibility, of partings and reunions, and of the transformative powers of love which endure even if everything else has been forgotten. Beautifully shot and anchored by strong performances from Juri Ueno and Jun Matsumoto, Girl in the Sunny Place neatly sidesteps its melodramatic premise for a cheerfully affecting love story even if it’s the kind that may float away on the breeze.


Original trailer (no subtitles)

Summer Time Machine Blues (サマータイムマシン・ブルース, Katsuyuki Motohiro, 2005)

summertimemachineblues-2There ain’t no cure for the summer time blues! Unless, of course, you have a time machine. For the boys of the sci-fi club the long, boring summer vacation is just getting started. They mess around playing baseball while the two girls from the photography club who’ve been unceremoniously ousted from their club room in favour of the boys take photos of them. Then some weird stuff starts happening and their air con remote gets broken and it’s just so hot! When the boys somehow end up with a mysterious time machine, the solution is obvious…

Full of nostalgic charm, Summer Time Machine Blues is a fitting tribute to all those endless, golden summers of adolescence. Hanging out in the university club room even though they’re on their summer break, the kids waste time in distinctly old fashioned ways – playing baseball, going to the baths, working on a photo project etc. Though the guys are nominally the “science-fiction club” they actually aren’t very interested in science fiction and kind of make fun of the sort of people who would belong to the very club that they do, actually, belong to. Perhaps they just wanted the bigger room with the air conditioner and were lucky enough to get it as their two female friends are the only two members of the photography club and mostly hang out in the dark room at the back anyway.

The film began as a stage play put together by Europa Kikaku and though it makes the cinematic jump extremely confidently also maintains its youthful absurdist tones and theatrical comedy beats. The humour itself is cheerfully bizarre, full of fast comebacks and naturalistic sounding banter between a group of young guys. Added to this there are numerous references to other popular science fiction and time travel themed franchises such as the obvious homage to the Back to the Future series which is even prominently showcased in poster form at the local rep cinema. The cinema itself (a mini plot point in the movie) is run by a total sci-fi buff and time travel story expert who dresses (from the waist up) in a Star Trek: The Next Generation Command uniform complete with Communicator Badge. He seems to have something of a beef with the only actual scientist in the film who never has much success with his discoveries and only succeeds in boring everyone around him with his needlessly complicated theories.

Directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro who may be best known for the Bayside Shakedown series, Summer Time Machine Blues, also mixes in plenty of fun stylistic devices like the anachronistic tape rewinds or the elaborate disappearing of the time machine itself. He also makes good use of split screens to compare and contrast what’s happening where and pays especial attention to make sure everything works out in the most completely satisfying way.

Indeed, one of the most satisfying things about Summer Time Machine Blues is that despite essentially becoming a parody of time travel movies, all of its complicated paradoxes are internally consistent and even though it doesn’t really have an obligation to, it all makes sense no matter how hard you poke at it trying to find the holes. Of course, there’s also the more melancholic side of time on show as the scientist points out he’s riding a time machine as well – just one that will never go backwards, only very slowly into the future. This aimless summer will end at some point, as will college and eventually the universe too, one supposes.

However, that’s no reason not to enjoy the time you have, as one character realises towards the end as he fears his romantic desires may come to nothing going on some hints from the future. An enjoyably absurd and youthful farce, Summer Time Machine Blues is lives up to its name as a transporting delight which carts the viewer back to their own days of long and boring summers filled with improbable adventures. Smart, funny and beautifully crafted, Summer Time Machine Blues is the perfect way to while away an aimless afternoon at any time of the year.