Tuesday, February 21, 2012

REVIEW: Matango

Director: Ishiro Honda
Year 1963
Matango is a wild and rather obscure film produced by the Toho Company. This cinematic oddity follows a group of friends as they set sail for fun, not knowing that they’ll end up stranded on a mysterious island filled with mushroom people that want nothing more then for them to become permanent fixtures in the community. Damn you, you tricky mushroom people!
The film is shot in that classy Toho way, providing a wide aspect ratio that really shows off the dark and dire qualities of the island. The characters are also both diverse in their personalities, yet equal in their understandably frantic attempts to survive long enough to escape back to civilization. The story is pretty depressing, but not overwhelmingly heavy making for a light hearted tale that mixes elements of science fiction and horror that transform the film into an entertaining concoction that can’t be missed.

Director Ishiro Honda is no stranger to great Japanese science fiction films having directed a ridiculous number of cult hits, let alone the big daddy classic of them all, Godzilla. His other notable genre efforts are Rodan, The Mysterians, The H-Man, Battle in Outer Space, Mothra, Gorath, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Varan the Unbelievable, Atragon….. Forget it! This list could go on forever so I think you get the point. The guy is a legend that is known for having a hand in bringing quality films to the big screen and Matango is no exception.
The film is shot beautifully, but unlike his other more notable efforts, Matango is more subtle. There’s no giant creatures wreaking havoc on detailed cityscapes and there’s no cacophony of explosions and widespread panic of the masses to be seen. The movie is more intimate in its approach, relying on a tight-knit cast to tell the story of panic and paranoia on a mysterious and disturbing island. Though the acting is over the top, like in most every one of his films, it still holds that special kind of magic that Toho is known for. Matango is a great escapist film, where you can just sit back and relax and watch the insanity flow.

When I say insanity, I do mean insanity. From the very first moments that we are introduced to this film, we really don’t know where to peg it. The initial moments of Matango show a dreary scene with a man looking out the window at a brilliantly neon lit city landscape. He is overwhelmed in despair while narrating a terrible tale that only he survived from. Then quickly we jump back in time, when he and his friends set off on their glorious voyage aboard their private ship. The opening title sequence kicks in and we are jarringly hit with an upbeat and toe-tapping little ditty that feels so out of place that you can’t help but smile. INSANITY!
Well, maybe not that insane, but this is just a precursor to what we eventually find when the entire cast lands on the island. You see this island houses a special kind of evil, one that is in the form of a rare mushroom that when consumed turns you into a giant pissed off mushroom. You know that old saying, you are what you eat? Well that old verbiage comes shockingly all too real for the stranded group. When starvation begins to set in for the crew, they gradually start to succumb to the charm of the forbidden mushroom, one by one, transforming into killer mushroom people. INSANITY!
It’s a fun and ridiculous premise that is executed in complete seriousness. There is never a wink to the audience or an intentional effort at bringing laughter to the viewing public, which makes the overall film work in all its strangeness. The quality of the film is top notch, from the creepy derelict ship that the group stays in to the thick vegetated jungle that surrounds them. Everything is of the highest of quality. The only set back would be the laughable look of the giant mushrooms that exhibit the final look of those who have consumed the dreaded mushroom and are in the end transformation of the dehumanizing process. They basically look like men in massive rubber suits, but luckily they are shot as such that they blend into the background so as not to showcase their absurdity. They may look ridiculous, but there’s a certain charm to their unintended humor. Either way, it adds to the fun of the film.

Matango is a master of the absurd, providing so many whacked out ideas and concepts that you’d think it would come off as more of a joke then an accomplished form of storytelling. In the end, it’s the caliber of director Ishiro Honda that really raises this film up and makes it respectable. The movie is shot beautifully and there’s enough visual flare and interesting array of shots to keep most viewers glued to the screen in anticipation at what will happen next.
Also the melding of science fiction and horror is a well deserved and perfectly executed treat. The paranoia and trauma that the crew goes through in order to survive this nightmarish vacation is highly entertaining and greatly appreciated. The fact that Ishiro opted to tell the story in a dead pan serious nature makes all the difference in the world in making the movie an established gem of cult notability. I just plain had a blast with Matango and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see some……

You sit in your room and think about what you did you bad little monkey.

Full speed ahead for fun!

Anyone want to play strip poker?

Man my boat is a piece of shit.

Land of Mushroom Men Ahoy!

Looks like the sea just shit them out.

Captain.... did you just soil your white pants?

Can I borrow the Captain's hat for a while?

Shout! Shout! Shout! Shout at the Mushrooms!


Stay back you damn dirty Mushroom Men!

Looks like you lost this tickle fight.

Isn't mushroom world beautiful?

I like mushrooms.

Eat your mushrooms and you can have your dessert. NEVER!


Get me off this damn island!

Look away! I'm hideous!

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