Whoever read our review of Goodbye Silence (2018) will know that we thought that Ugana failed to make this narrative an engaging experience for the spectator. In retrospect, we think the major cause of this failure lies in the mismatch between vision and budget. Yet now Ugana returns with another sci-fiction narrative. Will he be able to engage the spectator this time around?
A young woman (Kaoru Koide) is stuck within a rather unhappy relationship. Not only is her relationship with her boyfriend (Shunsuke Tanaka) devoid of conversations – both seem unable to address the ‘romantic’ other from their subject, but their relationship is also devoid of any sexuality. Then, one night after her boyfriend left unsatisfied by her cooking, a strange alien-like creature comes to her and sexually ‘attacks’ her.
The first aspect that Extraneous Matter – Complete edition reveals is that there is no romantic relationship between our woman and man. The man has no desire to engage with her at an inter-subjective level and keeps her, via his comportment at a distance (e.g. avoiding making eye-contact with her). The young desiring woman, sensing his lack of desire and the distance he installs between them, is unable to overcome this invisible obstacle and approach him with her subject.
The lack of any form of sexuality is also function of the lack of desire and the invisible obstacle. As there is no lovemaking with signifiers, a lovemaking with bodies is also out of the question. The mental and physical distance the man installs between him and his ‘girlfriend’ signals, in other words, his lack of romantic desire. While this signal renders her unable to approach her ‘boyfriend’ in a direct way – with signifiers or bluntly with her naked body, she does seemingly hope to ignite his desire via her cooking (Narra-note 1). Yet her cooking is not ‘powerful’ enough to ignite his desire.
Then, one night, our woman, so sexually unsatisfied, is sexually assaulted by a monster with phallic tentacles – phallic in the sense that the tentacles resemble the male sexual organ as well as in the sense of these tentacles being driven by thirst to enjoy pleasing the female object (Culture-note 1). As her boyfriend refuses to accept her inexplicit invitations to enjoy being enjoyed by him, she decides, to get the enjoyment she so desperately wants, to give her body to the multi-tentacled creature in her closet.
Yet, important questions remain, some questions about her boyfriend and some concerning the alien-like beast. Why is her boyfriend marked by a lack of sexual desire for her? Why is he so sexually apathic? Does he get his sexual satisfaction elsewhere, by having an affair with one of her co-workers or by a masturbatory tool he keeps hidden somewhere?
Concerning the alien presence, we are led to wonder what the purpose/goal of these monsters is and what the possible bond between humans and aliens can be. The strength of the narrative lies in the fact that it keeps the mystery alive by refusing to give us any definite answers to these questions. Kenichi Ugana fully understands that giving any kind of definite answer to these riddles would destroy the mysterious eerie atmosphere that marks the unfolding of the film and problematize the very pleasure the spectator has by not-knowing, despite the seemingly peaceful co-existence between both, humanity ultimately means for these aliens.
Yet, Ugana does provide a vague answer to the question of what exactly these tentacled monsters feed on. Without spoiling too much, we can tease and reveal that those various sequences – sexual and non-sexual – highlight that the oral dimension is very important for these creatures (Narra-note 2).
The composition of Extraneous Matter stands out due to its fixity – the narrative is visualized with a concatenation of fixed shots with, in some rather rare instances, some fluid cinematographical movement thrown into the compositional mix.
The beauty of Ugana’s composition lies in the compositional simplicity of most of his shots. By smartly emphasizing the minimal geometrical lines that form the composition, he succeeds in crafting many fleeting moments of visual delight. The beauty of this simplicity is further strengthened by the masterful use of visual repetition (to frame our young woman’s daily routine) and the monochrome colour-design.
The musical accompaniment – the darkish techno beats or the eerie string-like pieces – is effective in underlining the subtle unsettling and outlandish of the sexual events. Yet, the effective evocation of a certain sinister atmosphere does not stop the erotic sequences to have a certain eroticizing quality for the spectator. This erotizing quality is, as can be expected, function of the performance of Kaoru Koide, the female lead, and of the way the woman-in-enjoyment has been framed. The monsters and the related special effects are, for this kind of low-budget feature film, rather impressive – the effects might not always be that convincing, but they are able to make the spectator suspend his disbelief.
Extraneous Matter – Complete edition is a great erotic sci-fi narrative. Ugana did not only make a narrative that explores the need for a certain amount of sexual desire to make the dynamic of a romantic relation function but also succeeded in keeping the spectator engaged by refusing to provide definite answers to the mysteries surrounding the sudden appearance of the hungry phallic monsters.
Narra-note 1: The moment where the woman takes her boyfriend’s hand and tries to get him into her bedroom cannot be read as a clear sexual invitation. While her boyfriend reads her act (correctly) as being sexually motivated, the intention of her act remains vague and open to interpretation. What is important in this event is that her boyfriend, by pulling his hand back and stating that he will be back, reaffirms the distance he wants to keep from her.
Culture-note 1: This is also called Tentacle Violation (shokushu goukan).
Narra-note 2: In another sequence, a non-erotic café sequence, the very strange nature of the monster is further heightened for the spectator. It is not only revealed that it has a sweet tooth but also learn it can follow certain command by humans.