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  Matango Fungi To Have Around
Year: 1963
Director: Ishirô Honda
Stars: Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Miki Yashiro, Eisei Amamoto
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: They won't believe him but he had nothing to do with those disappearances - in fact, apart from one of their party he thinks they are all still alive. So what happened? It all started with a yachting trip, an outing that brought some young friends and their small crew into a part of the ocean where there was no sight of land. It was a pleasant enough day at first, and psychologist Kenji Murai (Akira Kubo) was hoping to make some progress wth his lady friend Akiko (Miki Yashiro), but she was shy in the presence of TV and radio star Mami (Kumi Mizuno) who was pleased to be the centre of attention. Yet there was a storm brewing, a storm which would leave them stranded...

Also known by the give-the-plot-away title Attack of the Mushroom People, Matango was a rare non-giant monster movie for its director Ishirô Honda, but still proved he could handle suspense even when the monsters were not hundreds of feet tall. It's such a curious film that it can be open to many interpretations as to what precisely it's trying to say about society: there are references to radiation poisoning on the island that the protagonists finally wash ashore on, so it could be to do with the atomic bombing that preoccupies so many of the post-war fantasy movies of Japan, but considering the ending, it could equally be anti-drugs.

But the anti-drugs message seems too pat a view to take with a work that seems to be conveying a message, yet doing so obscurely enough to render it at least confusing, at most shifting. Once the shipwreck victims are stranded on the island, which doesn't appear to be inhabited at first, they become aware that they need food. Searching around they find water, but there's a damp feeling to the landscape not helped by frequent showers of heavy rain, so nothing very substantial grows there to provide sustenance. Although there is something that grows well in the damp...

The party stumble upon a grounded ship on one of the beaches and investigate, but there is nobody alive as far as they can see, although it does appear to be a scientific vessel judging by the equipment aboard. This place becomes their base of operations as there is shelter and some provisions - in tin cans - but only enough for a few days. They work out from seeing submerged boats that they might be stuck there for a long time thanks to the currents, and that encroaching sense of decay is keenly felt, with dusty fungus spreading everywhere. And the mushrooms, of course.

Something tells Kenji, ostensibly our hero, that they shouldn't touch the mushrooms, but they're so hungry and desperate that someone is going to snap eventually. There's an unsettling mood of dread, of being inexorably drawn to their doom, that surrounds the characters, and not only because of their in-fighting but also due to the way that they are forced into a corner. It's either eat the mushrooms or die, and when they do partake a strange occurence begins. Yes, there are hallucinations (hence the druggy interpretation of the story), but transformations too as the decay sets into their bones - literally. Although the pace tends towards the sluggish, the sheer oddness of Matango convinces you to keep watching just to see if what you suspect will happen does. And that ending has to be one of the most bizarre in Japanese cinema: an accusation against the society's conformity, or its perceived pervasive and growing decadence? Music by Sadao Bekku.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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