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Film / Matango

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Matango, known in the US as Attack of the Mushroom People, is a 1963 Japanese horror film from Ishir⁠ō Honda, director of the original Gojira. It's an adaptation of a short story called "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson.

When a Japanese yacht is damaged in a storm, its crew and passengers make their way to a nearby island. The island is apparently deserted, though the castaways soon discover a beached research ship on the other side of the island. An examination of the ship, the insides of which are encrusted with a thick mold, soon reveals that it had an international crew who appear to have been involved in radiation and fallout research. Despite this, it seems that the crew survived for some time after the ship was beached, however there is no indication of their current whereabouts.

Although mushrooms are unusually plentiful on the island, the ship's captain warns the passengers not to eat them because of the danger of poisoning, and to concentrate on birds and turtle eggs. However, it is soon discovered that birds are afraid of the island and that turtle eggs are scarce. A small supply of canned food is found on the research ship, but this only buys the crew some time. Inevitably, members of the crew begin eating the mushrooms. In the meantime, they also discover that the crew of the abandoned ship may not have vanished as completely as they'd originally thought...

This film contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Very much so. For one thing, the castaways never turned on each other in the original story though that really doesn't make the short story's ending any happier than the movie's.
  • A House Divided: Hunger, class resentment and desperation all come together to create a really bad situation. And then those who eat the mushrooms become homicidal...
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: At the end, we see Kenji turning into a mushroom man.
  • Apocalyptic Log:
    • The log of the research ship explains that food was pretty low, so the people sent parties on a daily basis to try to find more supplies in the island... but not a single one ever returned...
    • Sakuta sails off in the yacht all by himself leaving all other survivors to die. The ship eventually comes back to the island carried off by the currents and Kenji gets on it, discovering that Sakuta scribbled a note on one of the cabin's walls saying that everybody else died, that he was the last to perish, and that Sakuta's body is nowhere to be found.
  • Body Horror: So much body horror. A good sign that the mushrooms have some kind of drug-like effect, because transforming into a Mushroom Man surely doesn't look pleasant...
  • Closed Circle: The protagonists are trapped inside of an island surrounded by a permanent fog that makes signals impossible to be seen, their communication methods were destroyed by the storm and/or have no batteries, the currents actually make ships return to the island's coast...
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The mushrooms and their effects could be a low-key version.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A lot of people got worked up over the effects, because they looked like radiation burns. The movie could be a metaphor for the dangers of fallout. Sure the food looks unharmed but...
  • Downer Ending: Kenji escapes the island, only to start turning into a mushroom man anyway and be trapped in a cage to be studied by scientists.
  • Face–Heel Turn: While few of the castaways are decent people, it's their assimilation into the Matango that marks their complete shift to evil.
  • Fatal Flaw: Which ultimately leads most of the cast to their doom.
    • Yoshida, a shallow writer who plagiarizes without regret, regurgitates various stock horror tropes to justify his betrayal and descent into madness.
    • Mami is immensely fickle and attaches herself to whoever she thinks offers her the best chance of survival. Allying with Yoshida results in a quick assimilation to a Mushroom Man.
    • Kasai's secret theft of food supplies and general short-sighted selfishness results in him suffering even more than the others once they actually run out. Which makes it easier for Mami to tempt him to gorge down on the mushrooms.
    • Sakuta has little patience for his crew's tensions interfering with his work, and enjoys a fair reputation in sailor circles. But he can't escape the island alone with the yacht, no matter how skilled he may be.
  • Festering Fungus: And how. It causes Body Horror and drug-induced madness. The worst part is that it's the only thing that can be eaten on the island.
  • Forced Transformation: People who eat the mushrooms are slowly turned into mushroom men.
  • Foreshadowing: In the beginning, everyone goes on about how great and trusting they are to each other.
  • From Bad to Worse: Starting with a damaged ship...then the island...then all those mushrooms are actually birds or fish...well shit!
  • Fungus Humongous: The titular "mushroom people" are humanoid walking clusters of mushrooms.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Downplayed. The biggest sign that a castaway has accepted their transformation into a Mushroom Man is a sudden change into their clean, respectable selves before the more disturbing visual changes begin. As he succumbs to his own infection, Kenji ultimately damns modern Tokyo as no different from the inhumanity of the mushroom creatures.
  • Magic Mushroom: They cause you to lose your compassion and turn into a Mushroom Man.
  • Money Is Not Power: Variation. Yoshida is the richest man amongst the survivors, but he has had some of the worst luck when it comes to scavenging food. Kasai ends up exploiting this by selling him some of the food he hoarded at exorbitant prices.
  • Mushroom Man: This film is the Trope Namer.
  • Nuclear Mutant: The mushrooms may or may not have been mutated by the radiation experiments conducted by the research vessel.
  • Recycled In Space: Theme-wise it's something of Night of the Living Dead (1968)...on an island! Where they should fear each other more than the mushrooms.
    • There was a B-movie reviewer who actually compared the film to Gilligan's Island... In a Horror Film!
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Kenji is a college professor while Akiko is a student of his. They were ultimately separated, and Kenji laments having left the island to stay with her.
  • Title Drop: "Matango" is written on one of the sample crates on the abandoned boat (with a massive mushroom inside), and at one point Yoshida says in a drugged stupor that it's a word for "no longer human".
  • Wham Shot: When Kenji turns his head in the ending.