Film Review: Matango (1963)

Also known as: Attack of the Mushroom People
Release Date: August 11th, 1963 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Sadao Bekku
Cast: Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Hiroshi Koizumi

Toho, 89 Minutes


While researching kaiju films fairly extensively over the last few months, in an effort to find stuff I haven’t seen, I came across a non-kaiju Japanese monster movie. I had heard about Matango when I was a kid but just thought it was some mythical thing I would never be able to see. As I grew older, I forgot about it. Then while reading up on Ishirō Honda’s work, I was reminded of this film’s existence. I couldn’t find an affordable copy of it or a stream on any of my many paid services but I did find the film, a dubbed and subbed copy, on DailyMotion. For the record, I’d love to own this, if anyone wants to release it on BluRay in the United States.

Like Honda’s more famous Godzilla films, this movie is a Japanese monster bonanza. Although, I was kind of expecting a giant kaiju mushroom man to appear at some point. Regardless of that, the monsters were just friggin’ cool.

Some consider this to be Toho’s greatest horror film. It is hard to dispute that but I plan to watch as many as I can get my hands on.

The mushroom creatures are more like zombies in their early form. They walk slowly, they try to catch you – hunting you into a corner, as they try to rip through doors in an effort to make you one of them. Also, at one point, one of the humans rips a mushroom creature’s arm off, similar to an old school zombie movie. But being that this was released in 1963, it predates what would become the contemporary version of movie zombies – mostly established in 1968s Night of the Living Dead.

Matango also seems to borrow heavily from Gilligan’s Island. You have a ship that goes off course, leaving its passengers marooned on an island. There is a skipper, a first mate, a starlet and another girl who is smitten with the professor of the group. Oddly, this came out a year before Gilligan’s Island.

So this movie is like Gilligan versus the zombies yet it predates Gilligan and modern movie zombies. It must have been written by the Japanese equivalent to Nostradamus. In reality, the script was adapted from a short story in a Japanese sci-fi magazine, which itself was adapted from a short story in an English language sci-fi magazine.

Matango moves a bit slow but even so, it is pretty engaging throughout the entire picture. Once the proverbial shit hits the fan, it gets really trippy and insane. The payoff is well worth the wait and viewers will find themselves in an insane tropical Lewis Carroll-like nightmare.

The special effects are effective and the film is still quite unsettling. It is darker than what Toho usually puts out and it even has a twist ending, which differs between the Japanese and English language versions of the movie.

Matango is eerie and beautiful. It is also imaginative as hell. I really liked this film and I hope I continue to find more gems like this, as I delve deeper and deeper into Toho’s lesser known filmography.

Rating: 9/10