Director: Ishiro Honda
Cast: Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi
Synopsis: Shipwrecked survivors slowly transform into mushrooms.
Ten minutes into Matango, a Grade Z Japanese horror thriller, I was sort of glad that the group of happy campers aboard a yacht were surely destined for a sticky end. Those characters that weren’t so bland that they tended to blend into the background were, like the bimbo who blithely tosses a writer’s manuscript into the sea, simply annoying. Had it been a manuscript I was working on, said bimbo would quickly have followed the pages into the sea — and been prevented from coming back on board until she’d gathered up every page. The writer doesn’t seem that bothered, so perhaps what he had written wasn’t any good. Perhaps it was even as turgid and slow-moving as the plot of Matango.
The little yacht inevitably runs into difficulties when the sea grows rough, and is buffeted off-course. After days adrift without power or radio contact, it floats towards a deserted island, but the now not-so-happy campers are dismayed to discover that it contains almost nothing worth eating. They do find the wreck of a ship, however. This too has no food, but sections of it are covered in a fungus-like mould. A quick scan of the Captain’s log reveals that the crew disappeared one-by-one, often after going in search of food.
At this point you would expect the monster-movie element of the picture to kick in, but Matango takes its own sweet time, deciding instead to focus on the increasing psychological and sexual tensions amongst the cast. They’re a pretty dull bunch, it has to be said, and nothing particularly memorable happens during this lengthy section. This is probably because of budgetary constraints but, let’s face it, imagination is free and I can’t help thinking writer Takeshi Kimura didn’t really call upon his to do a lot of work. It’s only in the last twenty minutes or so that we get to see the dark secret of the island, and to be fair Matango does suddenly acquire this mad energy once the mushrooms make their move. It turns out that the only edible things on the island are highly addictive mushrooms which slowly transform those who consume them into mushrooms themselves. I can’t help thinking Kimura was trying to make some kind of social statement here, but to be honest I was beyond caring by this time. The deliriously bonkers final reel seemed to be meagre payment for having to sit through more than an hour of dullness.
As far as cheaply produced monster movies go, Matango is by no means a poor entry in the genre, but its torpid pace makes it something of a chore to sit through.
(Reviewed 23rd May 2013)