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Matango (a.k.a., Attack of the Mushroom People) (1963).

November 5, 2010

The Scoop:
This slab of Toho goodness from Japan manages to be both intriguing and goofy at the same time.

A group of mismatched travelers on a pleasure cruise get shipwrecked on a strange island after their yacht sails through a storm. When trying to survive, they eat some local wild mushrooms that turn them into silly B-movie monsters.

In the group are selfish millionaire Kasai (Yoshio Tsuchiya), mystery novelist Yoshida (Hiroshi Tachikawa), psychology professor Murai (Akira Kubo), his student Akiko (Miki Yashiro), sultry singing star Mami (Kumi Mizuno), skipper Sakuda (Hiroshi Koizumi) and his first mate Koyama (Kenji Sahara). So basically it’s “Gilligan’s Island” minus Mrs. Howell. And instead of sophomoric comedy, it’s written as a sci-fi thriller.

The script by Takeshi Kimura (based very loosely on a William Hope Hodgson short story) is tight and suspenseful, with the undercurrent of post-nuclear anxiety that Japanese sci-fi of the period did so well. But once the mushroom monsters turn up it goes off the rails a bit and it’s hard to keep a straight face any longer. But veteran director Ishiro Honda, the man behind the classic entries in the Godzilla film series, manages to hold it together the best he can, and the cast is capable, albeit a little detached.

Sadly, the promising first hour is undermined by its ridiculous and slightly confusing final act. It’s still better than “Gilligan’s Island,” though.

Best Line:
Yoshida explains why he wants to hunt down one of the mushroom people: “His reality may be more interesting than ours.”

Side Note:
The film ran into some censorship trouble in Japan because the makeup used for the early stages of the mushroom transformation looked too much like the burns and radiation sickness suffered by victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Companion Viewing:
“Gilligan’s Island,” Lost” and “From Hell It Came” (1957).

Midnight Eye.

Take a Look:
The Japanese trailer:

A cheesy American made trailer:

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