Much like Midnight Meat Train, Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People has the kind of misdirecting title that might put potential viewers in the wrong frame of mind when sitting down to watch this 1963 Japanese oddity. Thankfully, unlike Midnight Meat Train, it does not suck in the least.
Quick Plot: We open in a hospital with a back-lit man telling us his tale. SPOILER ALERT! He will survive what we’re about to see (at least up to the time the flashback meets the present, because, you know, he's telling us his story).
His yarn beginneth:
While sailing with free spirits on a sunny day, a batch of wealthy professionals get stuck in a storm and end up washed ashore to a mysteriously abandoned island. As arguments abound over just who the REAL skipper is, the folks gradually realize something is quite amiss on their tropical not-paradise.
For starters, nary a bird nor beetle seems to be buzzing. The only life is of the plant variety, with a healthy population of fungi making the island its home. After discovering another shipwrecked vessel rotting away under mold, the group decides to ration their canned food, scavenge what they can, and avoid ingesting any of the maybe (or most certainly) poisonous mushrooms that seem to be blooming throughout their their new residence.
If you’re like me, you might now be thinking “sheesh Emily, we’re three paragraphs into this synopsis and not once have you said the words ‘mushroom people.’ What gives?” Well, a surprisingly lot. See, though a film titled Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People would lead you to expect, well, lots of mushroom people, director Ishiro Godzilla Honda has other ideas in mind.
Thankfully, they are good ones.
Rations lead to hoarding, hoarding leads to hunger, and hunger leads our grumpy survivors to feast upon the colorful garden of fungus freely growing about them. Those who give in turn loopy. Those who don’t stay hungry. And eventually, mushroom people happen.
Matango is an unusual film and I mean that as a compliment of the highest esteem. Though the characters didn’t quite engage me, the caustic pacing, eerie atmosphere, and unique payoff more than make up for it to produce a weirdly fascinating little genre picture unlike anything else. Now THAT’s an achievement in itself.
Honda’s soundtrack is wonderfully weird, with everything from loud instrumentals to eerie laughter doing its part to set a tone like nothing you’ve quite experienced before
Although the actual design of the mushroom people isn’t necessarily cutting edge, there’s something pretty groovy about the fact that no two look the same
I might be convinced to blame some of the bland characterization on awkward dubbing, but it is a tad disappointing that some of the players--particularly the virginal ‘heroine’--fail to leave a major impression
Everything in Tokyo is important (it’s a great city and full of life)
If you threaten a girl then pretend to be kind to her she’ll fall for you immediately
Turtle eggs are rich in protein
Long hard to find (and a ‘long wait’ on Netflix), Matango earns its place as a cult favorite. The movie is far eerier than you probably would expect based on its title and premise, and as a result, it’s simply filled with surprises from beginning to end. Sure, the dubbing is imperfect and characters thin, but its utter, well, DIFFERENTNESS makes this well worth a taste.