Kato (Kazunari Tosa) is a cafe owner somewhere in Kyoto. Aya (Riko Fujitani) works for him, and at the close of the workday she tells him to go upstairs and relax – his flat is above the property – that she’ll finish cleaning and close up.
So Kato trudges upstairs to his bedsit and sits down, intending to play his guitar to unwind… before a video image of himself appears on the screen of his laptop, addressing him directly.
Thinking it’s a trick or a joke, Kato then proceeds to have a conversation with himself. The image on the screen is from the security monitor downstairs in the cafe, and the Kato on the screen explains that it’s him from two minutes in the future. To prove it, he reveals where the guitar pick is that Kato was looking for moments before.
As such, he tells he’ll go back downstairs in a few minutes and start talking into the monitor’s webcam, saying exactly what is being said right then, to his own past self.
Bemused and a little alarmed, Kato goes downstairs, sees himself on the monitor screen looking for the guitar pick in his room, and says exactly what the mysterious image told him exactly two minutes before.
So begins an odyssey into one of the most inventive time travel yarns in years, a movie that would have needed narrative tangles thick enough to make your head hurt to create the script but which comes across as so casually breezy and believable you won’t stop for even a moment when the usual plot holes of time travel stories trip you up.
Kato delivers his message to his past self and goes back upstairs, only to get yet more information about the future from his new future self who appears on the laptop from downstairs in the cafe another two minutes hence.
The shlubby Kato can’t hide what’s going on from firebrand Aya (who’s still around closing up) despite his best efforts, and she recruits a bunch of his friends into the action, telling them all about it when they come to visit.
The whole troupe trudge upstairs and down again, endlessly looping back on themselves as they impart whatever’s going to happen in the future, and the schemes get more elaborate, from scratch cards to local mobsters someone’s fallen foul of. They even set up a complicated system of streaming the feed to another device, then another, to extend the two-minute window as far forward into the future as they can.
And all the while, Kato, cast adrift in everyone else’s energy, just wants it all to be over so he can sit by himself and pine for the woman down the road who runs the music shop, Megumi (Aki Asakura).
You can imagine writer Makodo Ueda with elaborate systems of whiteboards, string and cards constructing the whole thing. As time moves forward in the world of the movie (in real time), the plot endlessly jumps forward and backward between what’s happening in the present and among the same people two minutes in the future.
But the Gordian knot only grows bigger as the increasingly excited group enact their plan of looking further forward into the future, and the lines going backward and forward on Ueda’s whiteboard to not only keep it all straight but have it make sense and remain digestible to the viewer would have put Doc Brown explaining alternate realities to Marty to shame (and by the way, director Junta Yamagushi says ‘Back to the Future’ was a big influence).
Giving even more weight to the relative simplicity on screen, but which would have exponentially compounded the difficulty behind the scenes, is the fact that it’s all presented in a single continuous shot.
As the action follows different characters racing between the bedroom laptop, cafe and beyond we only follow certain people on their quests, but even though it was filmed over the course of a week between six pm and six am when the cafe was closed, the cuts are invisible, making it indeed feel like one long take.
Like all time travel stories it’s inherently contradictory and if you consider it forensically of course it will all fall in a heap, but the contradictions here extend beyond the conceit and they’re kind of beautiful.
It presents itself as a breezy romp despite resting on a bedrock of storytelling acrobatics. It’s visually fairly plain even while it’s something you’ve never seen before. And it’s as complicated as the likes of Inception or Primer yet at its heart it’s just a cute love story, and when Kato finally gets his chance with Megumi he finally gets his wish – his friends have gone home, the cafe is closed, the danger and intrigue are all over and messages from the future can go to hell.
Like zombies, World War II and Gotham City we’ve seen a million stories from the universe of time travel, but as long as writers and directors as talented as Ueda and Yamaguchi are on the case, the subgenre is still in very vibrant health.