From a dark cell, an identified male begins to recall his tragic plight. From Tokyo, a luxury yacht sets sail with seven passengers: young psychologist Kenji (Akira Kubo), his timid love interest Akiko (Miki Yashiro), lovely television/radio star Mami (Kumi Mizuno), rich businessman Fumio (Yoshio Tsuchiya), skipper Naoyuki (Hiroshi Koizumi), writer Etsuro (Hiroshi Tachikawa) and sailor Senzo (Kenji Sahara). All seems cheerful aboard when Mami breaks into song (in a scene which later showed up in Paramount's IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD), but soon a fierce storm materializes, damaging the boat and leaving it helplessly adrift in the ocean. An island is then discovered, and the seven passengers have no choice but to come ashore.
Near the island is an abandoned, shipwrecked vessel that they eventually make their home away from home. Apparently, it once accommodated by a scientific team of radioactivity experts, but there remains no sign of what happened to the crew, only a massive amount of fungus everywhere. There is a lack of food on the island; no fish or wildlife, and even the birds stay away, so they are forced to survive on some leftover canned goods, as well as turtle eggs and roots. There are plenty of mushrooms around, but after reading the vessel's captain’s log warning not to consume them, they stay away, at least for the moment. A mysterious, monster-like being unexpectedly pays a visit to them one night, and things get really hairy as Etsuro eats some mushrooms and begins to change, physically and mentally.
Based on William Hope Hodgson’s story, The Voice in the Night, MATANGO is often regarded as director Ishiro Honda’s parable against the effects of drug use. Whatever the case may be, it’s a dark oddball Toho horror film that’s very rewarding and a nice change of pace from their usual giant monster opuses. Acted by a tight cast of familiar players from other Toho films, this one really depends on character development more than rubber suits, and although most of the creature mayhem is saved until the last 15 minutes, it’s well-paced and tensely builds up to the grim climax. Some fine set designs and outrageous creature creations, as well as nice splashes of color, and a haunting score by Sadao Bekku (sounding more European than the usual Japanese marches) are a definite highlights. Lots of late-night American TV gazers got to see this one when AIP released it straight to TV (ironically around the same time that seven other castaways where prominent in prime-time) and played it for years as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, a typical title for AIP's exploiting of Japanese genre product.
Media Blasters’ MATANGO DVD is a splendid release in every way, even surpasing their recent disc of THE MYSTERIANS. The anamorphic 2.35:1 Tohoscope image looks excellent, with natural fleshtones, distinct colors and reasonably good black levels. Obviously sourced from the original negative, there are no noticeable print blemishes whatsoever. Audio is good on all ends: there’s the original Japanese mono track (with optional English subtitles), and an English track is presented in both mono 2.0 and 5.1 surround. The English dubbing seems to be exactly the same as the AIP-TV version, as compared to an old VHS tape of it.
There’s an abundance of nice supplements here, all produced in Japan, and in Japanese language with English subtitles. There’s a running commentary with leading actor Akira Kubo and a moderator. Kubo mentions that this is his favorite of the Toho films he did since it's really centered around the actors rather than the usual giant monster. He also talks about his early days as a child actor, and touches upon some of the many Toho sci-fi films he appeared in. There is a video interview with special effects cinematographer Teruyoshi Nakano. Mr. Nakano is asked questions and covers everything from the make-up, front projection effects, miniature models, and the substance used to create the edible mushrooms. Many behind-the-scenes production photos are shown during the segment. There is also a spoken word narrative (accompanied by productions stills and scenes from the film) by screenwriter Masami Fukushima, based on events and characters in MATANGO. After a black screen pause, there is a second, unrelated passage about a man and wife couple and it's accompanied by unidentified vintage home movies. There is also the original Japanese trailer, as well as trailers for VARAN, THE MYSTERIANS, DOGORA and GAPPA. (George R. Reis)
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