Fantastic Fest Interview: Junta Yamaguchi on his one-take time travel film ‘Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes’

One of my favourite films at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is now playing for US audiences as part of Fantastic Fest 2021. I had the opportunity to sit down with the director via zoom (and with a translator) to speak about the film.

Ed. Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Matthew: Starting with the obvious question, but what was the original impetus for the film?

Junta Yamaguchi: I’m a media creative & media director within a group with Europe Kikaku, based in Kyoto, and we normally do theatre productions. This is actually our first film!

From a while ago, we talked about making a film. We all like films like Tenet and Back to the Future. We wanted to make an original, very unique film that people hadn’t seen before that dealt with time travel and sci-fi.

Matthew: The entire cast are all from your theatre troupe?

Junta Yamaguchi: So indeed, all of us with the exception of one person, and that person is Aki Asakura, who in the film plays the owner of the next-door hair salon. She’s the only person who isn’t part of that group. She’s quite famous for being in the voice of Princess Kaguya in the animated film Princess Kaguyahime No Monogatari.

Matthew: The whole film feels like it must have been planned to the second; given that, how were you able to keep the actor’s performances feeling so spontaneous and unplanned?

Junta Yamaguchi: A big part would be that we are a group of theatre performers who always work together. Theatre actors usually do a two-hour theatre play, which is non-stop, and stick within the character they’re playing for two hours non-stop. In this case, it’s 70 minutes, and it’s something that was done as one take –in essence, sort of like a play. So it’s something that I think they’re all used to doing because they do that on a regular basis with each other, so that’s why the stress levels were not as high as they might have been with other people.

Matthew: On each of the screens it was obviously live reactions to what appears to be videos to create the multiple two-minute time jumps. Was that all done with live recordings displayed on-screen, or were the videos added in post-production?

Junta Yamaguchi: The film was shot in seven days, and for the first three days, we shot the scenes that would be used on the televisions; the future and past scenes. Then the last four days of the shooting, where what you see -the present– so when the actors were speaking to the television, it wasn’t somebody on the other side, they were speaking to the shots that they had filmed before. So there are no special effects shots in the film at all. It’s all done properly as one take as much as possible, so those reactions on the screens were pre-recorded and played back, not edited or added in post-production.

Matthew: I suppose then there must have been at least one person just in charge of queueing those videos?

Junta Yamaguchi: Actually, those past and future scenes were shot in 10-minute segments, and when we filmed the film, we filmed it in 10-minute segments. It’s not one cut for 70 minutes, but it’s seven 10-minute segments. So when we filmed, when we called action on the scene that we were shooting –the 10-minute segment of the “present”– at the same time we pressed play on the videos we had previously filmed.

Matthew: How much of a headache did you get on a daily basis trying to keep track of all that?

Junta Yamaguchi: Yes, you’re right. It was very, very tough. Both the staff and the cast were just completely focused on making those work.

Matthew: I also really liked the film because it’s very deliberately upbeat, very positive in its tone. How much of that was that a decision from the outset?

Junta Yamaguchi: Originally, when we were thinking about it and writing the script and getting everything ready, we –scriptwriter Makoto Ueda and I– wanted to make a James Gunn or Edgar Wright type fun film, a film that the audience would have fun with. But actually, in Japan, most films are a bit darker or a bit less fun. So we wanted to make something that the audience would stand up and clap with, something the audience would have a lot of fun with, so that was why we decided on that at the beginning.

Matthew: You won Best Asian film at Fantasia Festival –which is where I first saw the movie– and it’s doing very well Fantastic Fest; how has the response been for you to see people reacting so positively to it?

Junta Yamaguchi: This is my first film as a director, so actually, for a person to receive this much positive response, I thought maybe I went too far and made it too good! But at the same time, I wish that I could have been at every single Film Festival –of course, because of Corona it was impossible– but I wanted to see the reaction by every person in person because I heard so much on the internet.

Also, it’s a film about time, and I’m so happy that the concept has worked and so many people have understood the concept and what I managed to get across. So I’m very, very happy about it!

Matthew: Is there anything you wanted to incorporate that you couldn’t because of either time or money or some other constraint?

Junta Yamaguchi: One big thing is lighting. We didn’t have any professional lighting on set because of not having any money. That was one considerable regret because some of the scenes, especially the night scenes, don’t look so good because of the lack of professional lighting.

Matthew: And what is something that people generally are not asking about the film that you wish they would ask about more?

Junta Yamaguchi: The film was so complicated to make it to the second of the two minutes. We did it with a stopwatch, and the dialogue is done precisely, not even a second off from two minutes. That was so so so complicated, but I haven’t had heard that much praise about that specific point, considering how hard it was actually to do!

I didn’t have that much time with him, but it was very fun talking to Junta Yamaguchi, and it is clear that he is a delightful human being. I can’t wait to see what he and Europe Kikaku come up with next.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is playing as part of Fantastic Fest in the United States right now. There are no details of a North American release yet, but there is one planned.

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