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Matango

Entry updated 8 August 2022. Tagged: Film.

Japanese film (1963; vt Attack of the Mushroom People; vt Fungus of Terror). Toho. Directed by Ishirō Honda. Written by Takeshi Kimura, based on William Hope Hodgson's story "The Voice in the Night" (November 1907 Blue Book Magazine). Special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Cast include Hiroshi Koizumi, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya and Miki Yashiro. 89 minutes. Colour.

Professor Kenji Murai (Kubo) is being held in the Tokyo Medical Centre's psychopathic ward (see Psychology), where he recounts his story: after a storm a yacht is left broken and drifting in the fog; eventually an island is seen and the seven crew and passengers swim to shore. They find and explore a shipwreck: it is infested with mould and the mirrors have been removed – and whilst there had clearly been survivors they are nowhere to be seen. It had been a scientific survey ship, looking for signs of oceanic pollution: among its samples is a Matango – a giant mushroom unique to the island. The captain's log hints their studies had some connection to nuclear testing – and warns against eating the mushrooms.

The seven are: Murai himself, a university psychology professor; Akiko Sōma (Yashiro), a university clerk; Masafumi Kasai (Tsuchiya), an industrialist and owner of the yacht; Naoyuki Sakuda (Koizumi), the skipper; Senzō Koyama (Sahara), a sailor; Etsurō Yoshida (Tachikawa), an author and Mami Sekiguchi (Mizuno), a nightclub singer. They make the ship their base. However a shortage of food leads to an increasing strain on relations, eventually leading to their turning on each other: the good, bad and weak individuals reveal themselves. Some begin to eat the mushrooms, which are addictive. One by one the yacht's company die or are transformed – only the professor and Akiko hold out, but eventually Akiko is kidnapped. The professor pursues, but finds her happily eating a mushroom and surrounded by mushroom people. He flees to the yacht, which has been partially repaired by Sakuda before he died, and chooses to drift off to sea. He loses consciousness but is eventually rescued.

Back at the ward he rebukes himself for not eating the mushrooms and staying with Akiko: nevertheless it is revealed that there is fungal growth on one side of his face (its presumably deliberate similarity to victims of nuclear radiation almost had the film banned in Japan). One of the Scientists, who are revealed to be observing him, remarks "We are grateful that you were able to come back". The professor says of his former shipmates, "They're becoming inhuman," and then gazes out the window overlooking the bright lights of Tokyo: "Just like there." He adds that he would be happier on the island.

The film reflects concern over the Americanization of Japanese post-World War Two culture (see Sociology; Politics); the characters representing different archetypes (women, it seems, are either brazen and bad, or demure and good). The tension builds, forcing the characters to reveal their natures; the mushroom people are only glimpsed until their full appearance near the end, covered in grotesque fungal masses. They do so amid a landscape now overwhelmed by mushrooms (see Drugs) and echoing with their slowed-down laughter; their designs perhaps more weird horror than body horror. Director Honda was better known for such Kaiju films as Godzilla (1954) (see Gojira) and Mothra (1961) (see Mosura), but – though not it is well known outside Japan – many argue that Matango is his finest work, including Honda himself. Kimura – who scripted several Kaiju films, such as Radon (1956) – also considers it his best. Criticism often involves fans of Horror or social commentary complaining that the other element hinders their favoured genre. Those able to engage with both will likely find this a good film; the Paranoid atmosphere, the decaying shipwreck and the final scenes on the island are memorable. [SP]

see also: Masami Fukushima; Shōtarō Ishinomori.

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