Directed By: Ishirô Honda
Starring: Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi
Trivia: The film was never released in mainstream American theaters, but probably did have limited exhibition in Japanese-American communities on the West Coast
The creative force behind such legendary movie monsters as Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, Japanese director Ishirō Honda brings an entirely new kind of creature to the big screen in 1963’s Matango (aka Attack of the Mushroom People), while at the same time demonstrating that mankind is, on occasion, the scariest beast of them all.
A yacht belonging to millionaire Masafumi Kasai (Yoshio Tsuchiya) is caught in a storm. Badly damaged as a result, the ship comes to rest on a deserted island, forcing Kasai and his passengers, including college professor Kenji (Akira Kubo); Kenji’s pretty student Akiko (Miki Yashiro); writer Yoshida (Hiroshi Tachikawa); the boat’s captain, Naoyuki (Hiroshi Koizumi), and beautiful singer Mami (Kumi Mizuno), to seek shelter until the yacht can be repaired. While searching the island, the group comes across an abandoned science vessel, covered from top to bottom with a bizarre sort of fungus. After locating the captain’s log, they discover that the ship’s crew was investigating the island’s unusual mushroom formations when they mysteriously disappeared. Realizing their supplies won’t hold out for long, Kasai and the others start looking for food, only to find very little is available, Do they dare eat the island’s vast array of mushrooms, which by all accounts possess a power nobody fully understands?
Many of Matango's early scenes, including the storm at sea and the group’s arrival on the island, successfully establish an ominous tone, which grows more intense once the disabled science ship is discovered. Aside from the fungus and mold that’s overtaken the entire vessel, there are occasional sightings of a strange creature lurking in its corridors, which may or may not be human. But as Matango is quick to point out, the biggest threat its protagonists face comes from within. To avoid starving to death, the film’s characters start turning on one another, allowing their most primitive instincts to rise to the surface. Food is stolen from a central holding area, while sailor Senzô Koyama (Kenji Sahara), instead of sharing them with the group, sells the dozen or so turtle eggs he found to Kasai for an exorbitant amount of money. The worse things get, the more violent and visceral the characters become, resulting in a tangible sense of dread that escalates with each successive scene. By the time the film’s creatures enter the picture (looking pretty gruesome thanks to some effective make-up), the situation has already advanced beyond the point of no return.
A grim, foreboding tale of man’s inhumanity to man, Matango is a rare monster movie in that its main characters prove much more frightening than any creature concocted by the filmmakers