Thursday, October 25, 2012

Deep Down, Maybe We’re All Mushroom People

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.

High Notes
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

Low Notes
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

Lessons Learned
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.


  1. I've heard about this movie. Sounds great! It's available online at one of the video sharing websites. NOT YT, but DM. The whole movie, just waiting to be discovered. I'm going to watch it this weekend.

    Hope you and the regulars have been enjoying October, Emily. I'm watching THE BABY right now. Oooh, buddy, is this a wild ride. If Curtis Harrington and John Waters had a child, this movie would be the offspring. No way a movie like this gets made today. And why have I slept on Ruth Roman for so long? I saw her in THE KILLING KIND, but I didn't know she was Joan Crawford's cinematic sister. Not quite on the level of Crawford or the divine Shelley Winters, but really good.

  2. Nice to hear from you Burgundy! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Matango. Just a strange strange film that's well worth more viewings.

    I've seen The Baby and you nailed it! It's totally the love child of Curtis & John! How I wish they could have actually had a baby. It would be The Baby, but still...

  3. I need to see this! Although I'm sure it won't reach Mystics in Bali levels of loopiness!

    I found out about Matango thanks to a Cracked article on 'The 5 Most Baffling Horror Movies From Around the World', which was funny, but also stupid, since it lists Hard Rock Zombies and Long Weekend as being crazier than Hausu! In fact, on a list of 5 movies, Hausu is 5! Herehausy!

  4. True story: I saw this film once, many years ago late at night on a local TV network. I was 9 years old and my parents had dropped my younger sister and I off at our grandma's house at around one or two in the morning. The reason being that my parents were on their way to the hospital so my mom could give birth to my youngest sister. Anyway I couldn't go to sleep right away-- I was excited over the knowledge that I would soon have a new sibling--so my grandma let me stay up for a few hours to watch this movie in the hopes that I'd fall asleep afterward (which I did). As a result I don't have very strong memories about the movie itself, but I'll always associate it with the day that my sister was born :)

  5. Chris, few films top Hausu in terms of bonkersness. But Matango is special in a really unusual way. The title makes you think you're getting one film, then the film makes you think you're getting another, then mushroom people happen and it's hard to know WHAT you've got. It actually, in some ways, makes a great pair with Long Weekend (which I JUST watched, funny enough) because both sort of present themselves as wacky genre films but are surprisingly weighty and quite eerie.

    Dorian! I LOVE those kinds of memory association films. And what a random one to have! I guess no matter what happened, you could always be thankful that your baby sis wasn't a mushroom person!

  6. I was debating whether to review this film as part of a fairy tale horror series I'm doing on the blog this month, but you quick-drawed me to it! An excellent film that I enjoyed as a monster movie when I was a kid and an arty sophisticated social statement as an adult. Really love the atmosphere provided by that derelict ship, the mushroom forest and the awesomely strange music. Definitely gonna watch this again soon. Thanks for the review Emily!
    Note: the subbed version is far superior and uncut.

  7. Ooooh I'm VERY intrigued by your fairy tale series!

    The Netflix DVD did that fun thing where the film was dubbed AND had subtitles that rarely matched the dialogue. It's annoying, but also really amusing. I think it just defaulted to the dubbed version when I pressed play. I didn't even think to see if there was a different cut on the DVD. Did I miss anything?!

    1. I watched Oldboy this morning on Netflix and it had no sub option at all (grrrr) so I guess dubbed and subbed is better than dubbed only. The Tokyo Shock version is uncut but I don't know if that's the one Netflix has. Once in a while they will send out a weird, inferior DVD and I've even seen a couple that had to be DVD-r's. This movie was really chopped up for years for the American market, but if you're version has the Toho label on the disc, you got the full cut. There is also a commentary on that disc by Akira Kubo who plays the lead.

  8. Crazy! And last I heard, streaming is now subtitle enabled even for English releases (I guess if you're watching on a computer?). I can tolerate bad dubbing on lighter fare, but for serious films, it's just so mood-killing.

    I have no idea which DVD I had. I feel like it did have an interview (not commentary), so it must have been some sort of special release. It was also a 'long wait' on Netflix, so I imagine either release is now hard to find.

  9. I've got to track down a good copy of this film. The print available online wasn't that good, badly dubbed and cut off weird at the end. I got the gist of it, though, and liked what I saw. I need a good copy of MATANGO in my life! Oh, the MATANGO-ITY!

    Came up with that last one all by myself. :-D

  10. The Matangoity needs to be patented, plain and simple.