Warning: some spoilers
I rented Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People and I can comfortably say it is the oddest movie I have ever seen. Directed by the father of all the Godzilla movies, Ishirô Honda, the story is about a group of city people out for a yacht ride who get caught in strange weather and become stuck on an island. They find another ship, obviously abandoned from long ago, full of research equipment and covered in spores. As they look for food, they find mushrooms everywhere, but forewarned by the ship’s logs, try to avoid eating them because they could be dangerous.
They camp on the ship and suddenly one night, they hear footsteps approach their door. Shining a light toward the door, a creature enters, shaped vaguely human but covered with mushroom like growths. That’s the secret of the island: everything eventually consumes the mushrooms, and in doing so, becomes itself a mushroom–including the people from a previously stranded ship.
The story ostensibly focuses on the group trying to survive–trying to find enough food other than the mushrooms, trying not to be attacked by the mushroom people, and trying to find away off the island. More specifically, though, like other of Honda’s movies, the movie is a fairly strong condemnation of the modernization of Japan: the bright lights, night clubs, and other adoption of decedent western ways.
In his review of the movie, Jaspar Sharp writes:
Honda portrays the way in which the rapid economic growth of Japan has resulted in a population divorced from these cultural and natural origins. The rigid mechanical efficiency of a modern society is revealed to be merely illusionary, as the hierarchy crumbles steadily the further this ship of fools is removed from it. Carried away by the forces of nature on a freak ocean tide, the film’s irreversible conclusion is that of evolution turning full circle; man becomes mushroom as he reverts back to the primordial sludge.
Sharp also mentions the almost heavy-handed references to the drug culture that was just beginning to take root in most modern cultures. Not only do the mushrooms turn people into creatures half-living, half-fungus, they also exert a hallucinogenic effect—making the people both fey and dangerous.
Where I may go further than Sharp in the analogy between the perils of the island and the perils of modern society on Japan is the movie’s odd focus on the two women characters. One is a nightclub singer: glamorous, brave, willing to do most things; very uninhibited. The other is a student who is shy and proper; uncomfortable in unfamiliar circumstances, and dressed demurely in soft and quite safe pastels.
In the beginning, when the group was safely at sea and in no danger, the men noticed the singer and her obvious beauty and allure, admiring her boldness. However, once on the island, and as time progressed, the singer became rejected in favor of the studious, ‘proper’, young Japanese woman.
I would say that not only was Honda condemning modern society, he was making a specific point of condemning society’s influence on young Japanese women.
The contentiousness between the crew members, the odd mish-mash between scenes on the island and scenes of the Tokyo nightlife, and the effective background scenery–where no attempt is made to ‘seem’ real–make this a movie that, at a minimum, captures your attention if it doesn’t capture your interest.