Matango unleashes psychological terror and fungus body horror with atmospheric dread.
Matango or Attack of the Mushroom People isn’t hardly as cheesy as the title may suggest. This Japanese film is actually a very dark film, although with brilliantly campy mushroom people, but the real plot of the film revolves around the darker side of humanity. It’s therefore as much as a psychological horror as a science fiction body horror film that reminds of the atomic age of the fifties with fear of radiation. The tone of the film is dark, but also quite serious and addresses human behavior at its worst or trying to stay humane while confronted with survival and the threat of something out of a comic book.
When seven people are boating on a yacht, they get caught in a storm and the yacht is partially destroyed and they’re not able to control the vessel. When they see an island, they swim for it and discover another big ship that has been shipwrecked at the shore. They investigate the ship that was equipped to do research on radiation and find everything covered in fungus, but it is devoid of people. They decide to make it their temporary home, while they search for food, the shipper tries to fix the yacht and maybe even wait for help.
But they aren’t alone at the island. A mysterious species of humanoid mushrooms inhabit it and they might even have something to do with the disappearance of the whole crew of the research ship.
Why you should watch it
Matango has a very nostalgic feel, with the soft colors and the way the boat trip starts out with fun and play and a bit of singing, that takes you right back to the musical films of the fifties and sixties, wrapped up with an American style and feel.
But it takes a darker turn when they are shipwrecked and they have to work together to stay alive. Suddenly the vibe shifts and some people don’t take it very well in different ways. This part is the main focus of the film. The psychological reaction to survive, to either help each other or to fight against each other, each with different motives. The threat of the mushroom people isn’t even that important. Till, they get so hungry they want to eat the strange mushrooms that grow on the island, which turns them into mushroom people themselves.
The mushrooms are therefore both a real threat of weird creatures, maybe a undiscovered species, maybe due to radiation, while it’s near the coast of Japan, and less then twenty years after the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a metaphor of terrible deadly human behavior altering their appearance and mental stage due to survival. The hallucinatory scenes, after eating the mushrooms, even draw a parallel between drug addiction and being seduced in taking drugs due to peer pressure.
This is what makes this film dark and serious with a grim take on humanity. While the title may suggest that its’ a fun and cheesy watch like the old science fiction drive-in movies, it actually isn’t.
The coloring is soft and the set design of the island and the research ship are marvelous and has both an ominous as an adventurous vibe. The mushroom people are greatly designed and the changing process is a bit gross. Their appearances are subtle for starters, but slowly become more and more of a threat, but still very psychologically. It’s only at the end that the threat becomes physical which results in some frightening scenes.
The buildup is excellently done, with focus on the characters, their behavior and actions and how they force destruction upon themselves. Leading to the ultimate horror of losing their humanity.
My favorite part
Although the psychological and survival part was very well-done and the strongest aspect of the film, the main reason why most of us watch a film like this is for the mushroom people. They don’t show themselves too often, but when they finally do, you’re in for a treat. They’re very greatly shaped and look horrific. The forest part where they live and where the main character hallucinates, in the midst of all the different creepy looking mushrooms, then the movie creates some scenes that are the cherry on the pie. Without ever becoming cheesy or laughable, it still focuses on the grim side of humanity. And that is certainly the best part, when all themes come together.
Thrill factor: ★★★☆☆
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★☆
Cast and crew
Matango is partially based on the short story The Voice in the Night written by William Hope Hodgson. The film is directed by Ishirō Honda and written by Takeshi Kimura. It stars Akira Kubo (Kenji Murai), Kumi Mizuno (Mami Sekiguchi), Kenji Sahara (Senzō Koyama), Hiroshi Tachikawa (Etsurō Yoshida), Yoshio Tsuchiya (Masafumi Kasai), Hiroshi Koizumi (Naoyuki Sakuda) and Miki Yashiro (Akiko Sōma).
Duration: 89 minutes. Music: Sadao Bekku. Cinematography: Hajime Koizumi. Edited by: Reiko Kaneko. Produced by: Tomoyuki Tanaka. Production company: Toho. Distributed by: Toho.