Yamaguchi is a storyteller who clearly is interested in coincidences, happenstances, and timelines. Which might explain why his new film is about another infinite two minutes, concerning characters at a Japanese inn who find their lives jumping back to their original starting place every 120 seconds. The focal character for this trippy but sober and light existential crisis is Mikoto (Riko Fujitani), who works at the inn and finds herself staring at the same river. In shots that unfold in single takes before starting at the same place again (with different starting angles), she and other workers try to understand what is going on while caring for the guests. One of the script’s most clever aspects is how everyone’s conscience is linear, meaning that they can learn more about this strange scenario, before resetting. Eventually the torment reduces to a puzzle to be simply solved, although some guests are tired of eating rice every two minutes.
It almost doesn’t matter that “River” is slightly exhausting, and of course, repetitive. Yamaguchi keeps the story breezy and amusing with gradual developments while working against its conceit—new character problems are brought into the fold, piling onto the overall challenge of how to stop this phenomenon happening on an otherwise calm day. It’s nifty stuff, and far more challenging to explain than to understand as it unfolds scene by scene. Though “River” doesn’t achieve the same level of entertainment as “Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes,” it’s still the work of a filmmaker with an invigorating belief in what entertainment be achieved by thinking outside a linear timeline and using minimal special effects.
Zach Clark’s “The Becomers,” a Chicago-shot sci-fi rom-com that had its world premiere in Montreal, succeeds in being a strange valentine. But it is less moving when it comes to connecting the heart of it all, in telling a story of two alien lifeforms (one with turquoise eyes and another with purple) who inhabit different human bodies while in search of each other.
Russell Mael of the band Sparks offers his tender, non-sarcastic voice for bits of narration in which we learn poetically about the aliens’ wistful memories. He also ushers in a deadpan nature that is carried on by other performances especially as the aliens take over the likes of a pregnant woman, a suburban mom, a bus driver, and others. The ensemble cast is in tune with the sentimental weirdness of this tale, one that has Covid callbacks with people talking about how isolation has changed them. But this movie left me a bit cold, far more cold than one should feel for a love story so invested in its funky poetry. That while it’s trying to be strange (“Drinking salt wine from our lava glasses,” our lovers recall), it’s still trying to make a wayward, grandiose statement about the souls we are destined for across galaxies. Along the way, despite good pacing and some surprising turn of events, “The Becomers” gets lost.