Asian Movie Month Movie #3: Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People)

Asian Movie Month on PMT kicked off on Saturday July 19 (the 30th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death)  with my article on G-Fan magazine.  Besides the anniversary of Lee’s death (who was actually born in the U.S. and moved to Hong Kong, then back to the U.S.), Guillermo del Toro’s magnificent tribute to Asian cinema Pacific Rim was also released that weekend.  Now here is movie #3 in our look at Asian cinema, a movie which came out 50 years ago today…

Matango 1

Matango (also known as Attack of the Mushroom People and Fungus of Terror) was directed by Ishirô Honda, the Godfather of Kaiju films (he directed most of the Japanese Godzilla films, as well as Rodan, Mothra, The Mysterians, Varan The Unbelieveable, Frankenstein Conquers the World, and many more).  As a matter of fact, he made it in between making King Kong Vs. Godzilla and Atragon (which featured the giant serpent Manda who would later appear in Destroy All Monsters, which he also directed), and recycled a lot of music and sound effects from his Godzilla movies.

The story is not much of a monster movie though; indeed it’s actually a psychological thriller along the lines of Lord of the Flies.  It is very slow moving, there’s almost no action or kung fu, the monsters don’t appear until the very end, and a lot of kaiju fans will become bored before the halfway mark (even I found it a bit dull in places, and I like a lot of slow movies).  However it still features some excellent cinematography and weirdly atmospheric/ otherworldly set designs (reminding me a little of At the Earth’s Core, which came out over 10 years later), and managed to hold my interest throughout.
Matango 4

It starts out in Japan where a group of doctors are speaking to a man who is being held in the psychiatric ward of a hospital.  He tells them he is not crazy, but he has a crazy story to tell…
He was part of a day trip taken on a yacht into the Pacific ocean with 4 other passengers and 2 crew members (there was a writer, a singer, a professor and his student, a rich businessman (who owns the yacht) and the skipper and his first mate).

The yacht runs into a storm that snaps the mast and sends it adrift until they reach an island, seemingly uninhabited.  They see no animal or avian life on the island (they notice that birds actually avoid flying over it), but it has a lot of plants and particularly an abundance of fungus and mushrooms.  There are signs that there was previously human life on the island- they find some man-made pools, and eventually run across a derelict ship washed up on shore.  Upon exploring it they discover that it was a research vessel that was involved in some kind of nuclear testing in the ocean, and it is covered in fungus and mold.  They also discover in the ship’s log that the mushrooms might be dangerous to eat.
Matango 3
As their food grows scarce, they begin to turn on each other and some become paranoid and  unreasonable.  Eventually they discover that they are not the only beings on the island after all, and that eating the mushrooms doesn’t kill you, it changes you.  A creepier fate than starvation or death awaits them…
Matango 2

Tho it’s not at all the fun monster movie the title may conjure images of, it’s still worth a watch (particularly if you like psychological thriller type movies); and when the monsters finally do show up they look pretty awesome.  Every main actor in this except for Hiroshi Tachikawa (who plays the treacherous mystery writer, and is an Akira Kurosawa regular) have been in multiple Godzilla (and other kaiju) movies (including a bunch of the newer ones), and most of them are still making movies now (50 years later).

Matango was never released to the theatres in America, but was a television mainstay on sci fi theatre matinee type of shows in the ’70s (under the Attack of the Mushroom People title).  It was very difficult to find for years, but it was released on DVD in 2005 by Media Blasters.  Unfortunately,  I believe that is now out of print.

This is an AWESOME 3 pack, but unfortunately, it's out of print as well...

This is an AWESOME 3 pack that included Matango, but you guessed it- it’s out of print as well…

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