Extraneous Matter

Extraneous Matter doesn’t work as a feature-length endeavour. But as four standalone short films, which was the origin of this project, the satirical sci-fi efforts of Japanese filmmaker Kenichi Ugana would be perceived in a worse light.

The mutual connection between all four stories is a mysterious invasion: tentacled creatures are occupying Earth and nobody knows why or what purpose they serve. The audience is first introduced to these “things” when a lonely woman (Kaoru Koide) finds one in her closet. The creature proceeds to satisfy her “desires” in ways that her disassociated boyfriend doesn’t bother to take interest in. The consensual nature at first is murky, but the woman also ends up knocking on the closet door every night after that. This story is followed by less explicit short films about different people who have found unconventional companionships with these visitors, even trying to employ one of them in a trade.

The most memorable footage captures these creatures strewn across streets and spaces as bystanders go about their lives. When Extraneous Matter was screened at the Torino Film Festival, Ugana declared that the project was a response to living through the COVID-19 pandemic. The writer/director isn’t making a political statement with his art, but rather using the medium as an outlet to decompress. This concept can be identified and doesn’t feel heavy-handed, but there’s a serious issue with how this project has been assembled. Arrangement is key with anthologies, allowing the first segment to set the bar. Having the most sexually charged story lead Extraneous Matter is a bad choice because it establishes inappropriate expectations. The satire is completely lost in favour of resembling live-action hentai that never finds a reassured tone. The viewer is confused: is this supposed to be serious, absurdly funny, or legitimately erotic? This provocative arc may have been okay had it been sandwiched in the middle of Extraneous Matter but, because it also helps bookend the feature, more tweaking would’ve been required.

Because of this unfortunate mismatch, Extraneous Matter has to work hard to win the audience back. Ugana doesn’t entirely escape this squeeze considering these segments rely on thin ideas, but the filmmaker does find a decent balance between routine monotony and out-of-this-world absurdity that stays true to his initial thesis.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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