Some like it weird, and “Extraneous Matter” more than delivers the surreal and subversive titillation, but it’s also strangely beautiful.
For some, watching a horror film — or any movie, for that matter — is a very straightforward experience. These viewers expect a traditional narrative arc with a story that reveals itself easily and without careful dissection or peeling back of layers. Others, like myself, enjoy a film that takes the scenic path to reach its destination — with treasures hidden in unexpected corners, dark and mysterious, or buried deep beneath the surface.
Extraneous Matter from writer/director Ken’ichi Ugana, based on his short of the same name (and thus, often referred to as Extraneous Matter – Complete Edition), is tailor-made for a particular kind of viewer who craves something foreign.
And I’m not just referring to the film’s country of origin. By foreign, I mean the arrival of something strange, unusual, and unexpected.
Extraneous Matter is about that very thing.
In a series of short, interconnected vignettes, we follow a sudden and mysterious alien invasion — from arrival to propagation and integration, and finally to disappearance. But it’s not War of the Worlds or even E.T. (despite one very overt homage to the Spielberg classic). This is an invasion of tentacled, octopus-like creatures who seem more interested in assimilation than domination.
The film begins with a lonely, bored woman (Kaoru Koide) stuck in a rut of everyday monotony.
Though often surrounded by people, she feels very much alone. She spends time with friends whose company she does not enjoy and a boyfriend who is emotionally and physically distant from her.
He seems to show up only for dinner, which they eat silently together while he watches television and ignores her. Immediately after eating, he leaves, even when she urges him to stay. There’s a palpable longing on her part to connect with him, but she can’t surmount the icy wall between them.
No one in her life seems to notice or care that she never says a word. It’s as if she has just faded into the background, insignificant and unloved.
As she sleepwalks through life, Ugana lingers on the simple moments of her repetitive daily activities; the drip of brewing coffee, a silent breakfast in front of the television, making dinner for her ungrateful boyfriend, head down in front of a computer while her girlfriends brag about meaningless hookups and conquests.
Into this life devoid of meaning and passion, something inexplicable happens that forever changes her.
One night, she hears a stirring in her closet. When she goes to check, she’s surprised by a tentacled creature who proceeds to sexually violate her. She’s naturally shocked and scared. But she also feels something for the first time in a very long time.
The next morning, she wakes up on the floor in front of the closet. Was it all just an intense fever dream?
She stares at the closet door for a while, half terrified and half hypnotized. But she can’t bring herself to open it. Thus, she goes about her daily routine, the same as the day before and every other day before that.
But, for the first time, something is different.
During one of her regular get-togethers with her friends, one of them abruptly stands up from the table and walks into the woman’s bedroom. The woman follows her friend and finds her on the bed having very pleasurable sex with the tentacled creature. She watches intently from the doorway.
After another disappointing night with her distant boyfriend, she retires to her room, opens the closet door, and willingly has sex with the creature. Soon, others are inexplicably drawn to the creature, including more of her friends and even her boyfriend. Each time, it’s clear that the creature can give the humans intense erotic pleasure.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Ok, so this is just hentai tentacle porn?” Am I, as a serious film critic, recommending you watch tentacle porn?
Well, yes and no.
I was certainly feeling a bit unsure of what I had gotten myself into at this point. It was no doubt strange but also weirdly beautiful and mesmerizing. Still, I knew this film wasn’t just “not for everyone” but also “not for most people.” As artistically shot as it was, in stunning black and white with great cinematography, it also is (sort of) tentacle porn, a fact that’s sure to alienate plenty of viewers.
Still, it’s important I tell you that this film is about so much more than that. It is, in fact, meant to provoke you and not simply titillate you.
If you can get past tentacle orgies, it’s quite a deeply affecting film about loneliness, the human need for connection, our fear of alienation and the unknown, our treatment of the perceived other, and how we both desire and dread the ordinary and the extraordinary in equal measures.
There is an impressive amount to unpack in just under an hour, and it’s a film that’s hard to stop thinking about once it’s over.
After the shocking, erotically charged opening segment, we get three much more subdued episodes that illustrate what happens when the aliens begin to spread and attempt to co-exist with the humans.
On one level, it’s a striking metaphor for how we’ve dealt with the pandemic.
It’s amazing how something that at one time would be utterly unthinkable so soon becomes ordinary, to the point where we don’t even notice its existence. In one segment, humans casually step over aliens in the street on the way to work without even taking a beat. Something that starts off so unfathomable, so life-altering, is suddenly nothing more than a nuisance the humans learn to just ignore.
The film also explores how humans often exploit everything for their own benefit and selfish desires.
In the first segment, the aliens have value because of the sexual pleasure they provide. In the second, an alien is treated like a pet and carried around in a bag. In another, a man convinces himself he can understand what an alien is saying. He assumes what the creature thinks and desires based solely on his own perception of the world.
When the aliens stop being novel or stop serving a purpose, they become only something to be controlled and ultimately destroyed. Because, as anyone who watches any amount of horror can tell you, the greatest monster — the greatest threat to the world — has always been and will always be human.
This bizarre but captivating tale ends on a particularly poignant note, and it all left me reeling from just how unique and spectacular the whole affair was.
I don’t know if I can recommend it to the average moviegoer — certainly not as a blanket endorsement. It’s far too divisive.
But, for the right audience, it’s just weird, thought-provoking, and sublime enough to demand your attention.
This is arthouse meets anime, sci-fi meets subversive, erotic meets esoteric.
As funny as it is melancholy, all while being queerly provocative, it will make you think about what it means to be human. It’s also beautiful to look at with a gorgeous soundtrack.
So, even if you see the trailer and think, “That’s not for me,” I’m here to remind you that sometimes the most extraordinary things can be found on the other side of our comfort zone.
Sometimes, you just have to open that closet door.