MATANGO: FUNGUS OF TERROR!
Say it with me...MaTanGO. Matango. MATANGO. Apparently the fungus of terror is a hell of a lot of fun to say. What is that which is Matango? Also known as "Attack of the Mushroom People," this film is the closest thing I've ever seen to a horror version of Gilligan's Island. Hitting the theatres way back in 1963, (one year before Gilligan's Island hit the screen), Matango was one of the many horror films directed by Ishiro Honda...the man behind most of those old Godzilla films we know and love. Before you get your hopes up, I will go ahead and tell you: this is not the story of a giant mushroom spreading chaos and destruction in his wake. Like I said: This is more like the most screwed up episode of Gilligan's Island you'll ever see, almost. (I say almost because the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Robots is THE most messed up thing to happen on that damn island...ever.) I don't want to give away too much of the "Plot" too quickly, so let's get started.
Matango starts with a man in a dark asylum, overlooking the neon city of Tokyo. "They're all dead. All of them. I left them to die. I'll tell you my story. You won't believe me. You all think I'm crazy." The man rants for a little while, gazing out the window telling how his story is horrible and frightening....the scene fades out and slowly fades into....HAPPY HAPPY SAIL-BOAT RIDE WE ALL SMILE NOW!!! The movie shifts from brooding and melancholy to sweet Jesus I need drugs to be this happy. We have a boatful of our cast, sailing away. Just to force more evidence of how happy they are down our throats we're subjected to one of the most well written songs I've ever heard. The lyrics? "Lah, Lah, la-la, Lah, Lah" Now I'm guessing there may be a problem with my Japanese to English translation of this film. Perhaps in Japanese "Lah, Lah, la-la, Lah, Lah" translates to "I want to rock your world, you make me feel like no other, we are all children of the Earth, no less than the trees." I doubt it somehow...I think "Lah, Lah la-la" just so happens to be Smurf lyrics, but I'm getting on a tangent here. Point is, the entire cast is happy. You have the skipper, the novelist, the actress (the Lah Lah girl), the first mate (our very own Gilligan for this adventure), and, well a few others. I'll admit that I didn't quite catch every character's name....I blame it on not knowing enough Japanese. Suffice to say none of them are married and they're all, with the exception of our Gilligan, in pretty good moods. Gilligan, who I'll introduce officially when he becomes important, is bitter about not being as rich as everyone else on the boat. See? Not that interesting.
The boat crashes in a storm. The crew finds another stranded vessel on the other side of the island...a nuclear research ship that's abandoned, minus a large amount of fungus growing on everything. They also find all the mirrors broken. This is NEVER a good sign in a horror movie. Whenever I leave an apartment, I'll have to make sure I break all the mirrors in it just to keep the next tenant in check. Anyway, everyone looks around the ship, eventually opening a cabinet to find a GIANT MUSHROOM. Of course, said mushroom is sitting next to a whole cabinet of eyeless turtles and other mutant animals. Their immediate response? "Maybe we can eat it!" Personally, I think finding a cancerous eyeless turtle next to my meal would only heighten my appetite. They eventually do find canned food, as well as the Captain's Log. They now know not to eat the mushrooms due to the neurological damage they cause. This established, we really get to the joy that is Matango: Fungus of Terror. Well, almost. You see, this is a horror/suspense/drama...with that ration very light on the horror until the last 20 minutes. You'll understand. Trust me.
You see, at this point in the film, there's a serious question of how much time has passed. We switch from one scene where everyone is fine, and the next...well in the next scene almost everyone has snapped. They've decided to live on the fungus ship. People take shifts keeping an eye out for passing vessels while the rest go out to look for food, warned not to eat the "dangerous mushrooms" that grow everywhere. Gilligan is off sneakily eating turtle eggs raw, something this movie shows us for far too long. Seriously, we get to see a scrawny Japanese man suck eggs for what seems like an eternity. Very few things I've found so repulsive. The Captain has locked himself away in his room, where he does nothing but polish his rifle. That last comment does indeed have double meaning. You see, when Gilligan finds the actress having sex with one of the men, they start fighting. Why? Apparently, they all agreed to not have sex with the girls, since it would drive the other men crazy. This leads to a lot of leering from the very scary egg sucker Gilligan, where he has a great monologue explaining how he's supposed to rape the women...it's only natural. Jesus this guy really couldn't get any worse. (Somehow I wonder if on the actual Gilligan's Island the Skipper and Gilligan might have made a similar agreement with the Professor concerning sex with Ginger or Mary Ann. Might explain a lot of crap that DIDN'T go on on that island.) Yet, the girl's aren't sane either, dressing up as ghosts to investigate a noise they heard in the hallway. The film is actually a bit suspenseful, since the crew's gone crazy and there's a strange lumpy-headed "thing" that wanders through the screen occasionally. By wander I mean just that: whatever it is doesn't seem to really want to be in the movie. Sure, it's the classic "don't let them see the monster yet" bit...but this is kind of strange. Everyone in the movie tends to ignore the wandering monster, even when it apparently attacks one of them in the hallway. When I say "apparently," I mean that it's sort of implied. The movie does not want us thinking too hard about mushrooms just yet.
Matango stays pretty drama-oriented for about 90% of the movie. The Captain goes completely crazy after eating the dangerous mushrooms along with a another member of the crew. You really don't want to hear too much about drama, but suffice to say the Slut-actress is forced off the boat with a would-be mutineer. You may notice the mutineer Captain's very short shorts. What is with old Japanese movies and scary short shorts? Gilligan, the repulsive would-be rapist raw egg sucker gets shot by the mushroom-crazed captain before they disarm and banish him and his woman. So now there's a guy in the woods that's crazy as well as the Lah Lah girl. And that's when the film becomes interesting.
Now keep in mind that everything that I've told you takes up almost the first HOUR of the movie. The drama isn't bad, but besides someone roaming around the ship, there's very little to be said of the deadly fungus of the title. There's also only about 18 minutes left in the film. The film's got to do a lot pretty quickly if it wants to really hold onto that "Fungus of Terror" title. And that's why the final act is so freakin' weird.
It's Mushroom Time!
Now there are three people left on: The author, his friend, and the author's girlfriend. The author and his girl go hunting for food leaving his friend alone on the ship. That's when the kind-of loopy seductress enters the ship. Of course he hasn't been with a woman in forever and is easily convinced into following her into the island's jungle. He's not really so convinced as "easily led" since he completely falls on his knees kissing her arm the moment she shows up. So crazy slut leads our buddy into the woods, telling him to go ahead and eat the mushrooms. He's starving and does so. As soon as he's eaten a few this is what she says: "There's something I didn't tell you. Once you eat the mushrooms you become a mushroom! Hahahahaahaahahaahahahahaha!" She then points out the half-mushroom captain. And then the hallucinations start. I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves.
Basically, a bunch of showgirls keep us entertained for a while, swirling about. Just think of the "Pink elephant" scene from Dumbo to understand the quality of weirdness going on. We go from "eat the mutagenic mushroom" straight into "see how flexible Sexy Suzuki is" in about 30 seconds. If this wasn't enough weirdness for you, men in lumpy mushroom costumes fight with the author and kidnap his girlfriend. Now I'm guessing you've been waiting for a picture of the great MATANGO since you saw the title of this article. Sadly, I have only bad news for you. The "Mushroom People" don't photograph too well because they look just like moving piles of scenery...because that's more or less what they are. Japanese men in big rubber suits, this is what cinema is all about. I wish I could do better, but this is about as good as it gets.
Not too exciting, I know. But just imagine our hero as he fights a swarm of maniacally laughing giant mushroom people. Or not. Our hero (the author) Akira roams about the magical forest for a while, taking pot shots at giant mushrooms that are literally trying to entice him to eat them so that he'll hallucinate and become a mushroom too. They're not that articulate, but I'm paraphrasing. In all other respects it's a standard "zombies everywhere" scene, the main difference being that most zombie movies don't have giggling mushrooms dancing all over the place. Anyway, Akira finds his girlfriend high on mushrooms and he runs away, hops on their escape raft and, well, escapes. I'm not going to ask the obvious question concerning the raft, but apparently they didn't use it due to lack of food for the trip. Luckily our boy Akira had some mushrooms packed in case he got hungry. And therein lies the surprise ending of Matango: Fungus of Terror. "The mushrooms...I ATE THEM!" So our boy's half-mushroom now too. The movie ends with Akira looking out over the bright Tokyo night, realizing that the big city is no place for a human mushroom. I'm serious. That's how it ends. The morale: The big city is no place for mushrooms.
So where's the Terror in the Fungus known as Matango? To be honest the suspense is there, but mostly as weird pre-mushroom craziness happening on the boat. Of course you forget all about that once people start turning into mushrooms on screen, but tension-building drama is really what Matango has to offer. What the hell am I saying? At least this film isn't boring. But I'll just say that Matango is the fungus of Strange and leave it at that. I mean, what was the writer thinking? How many other food items would be scary if after eating them, you turned into that very thing. MaTACO: Enchilada of Terror comes to mind, but I'm sure even turning into a giant jelly-donut monster could be scary under the right circumstances. So, the plot of this movie is really how a bunch of castaways land on an island inhabited by mushroom people that just want to get them high. I think it's safe to say that drugs were somehow involved in the creative process for Matango: Fungus of Terror.
EAT ME, HUMAN. I AM DELICIOUS.
copyright jared, except for al mushroom related images on this page. Fair use is a wonderful thing though isn't it? Nintendo owns the rights to most of the mushrooms, except for the one's that turn Mario INTO a giant mushroom/plumber.