This review is of the original Japanese version of the film.
MATANGO is a genuinely suspenseful and creepy horror film from the golden age of Japanese monster movies. This one, however, has no guys dressed in rubber monster suits destroying model cities. (It does have guys in rubber monster suits, though). Based on the ever-reliable "group of travelers get shipwrecked on a mysterious island" premise, MATANGO, like many non-Godzilla and non-Kurosawa films from Toho, was and is little known in the Western world but has developed an underground cult status among connoisseurs of Japanese monster flicks.
Unlike many Japanese horror and sci-fi flicks of this period, MATANGO relies not on special effects but on story, atmosphere and characterization, as it tells its tale of a small group of loosely connected friends who begin to turn on each other as each passing day on the island brings them closer to the brink of starvation and madness. The situation is made worse when it is discovered that at least one horribly disfigured survivor from a previous shipwreck is stalking the new castaways. Then there is the little matter of the strangely addictive mushrooms known as "Matango" that grow on the island. Are they what killed the previous crew?
The film works on many levels, as a straight horror film, as a warning against drug use, and even as a criticism of the decadence of Japanese youth. Rather artfully, the film begins and ends on closeups of nightclubs with their bright neon signs, and in the middle of the film, one character has psychedelic visions of a nightclub after eating the mushrooms. The same year, director Ishiro Honda's close friend Akira Kurosawa expressed similar concerns in his film crime thriller HIGH AND LOW, with scenes of strung out Japanese youths wandering around looking for their next fix.
If you're a fan of Godzilla flicks, you will appreciate the cast, which features such daikaiju stalwarts as Akira Kubo (MONSTER ZERO, SON OF GODZILLA), Kumi Mizuno (MONSTER ZERO, GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER), Hiroshi Koizumi (MOTHRA, GHIDORAH) and several other performers who made their mark in Godzilla films. All of them do a fine job in their roles, but perhaps most memorable is Mizuno, one of the most popular of all Toho actresses. Her transformation from a spoiled rich celebrity -slash - whore to a femme fatale (okay, not much of a transformation) is one of the elements that make the film so ominous. The closeups of her eating the dreaded matango near the end of the film (seen above) are truly chilling and help make up for the somewhat silly "mushroom people" who dominate the film's climax. - JB
Probably a mere coincidence, but the characters of MATANGO include a skipper, a first mate, a rich man, a professor, a celebrity and a girl next door type.