Sunday, November 27, 2022

A Fungus Among Us

Film: Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Matango, also released as Attack of the Mushroom People, may be a film that is cursed with a poor name choice. Under the name Matango, there’s no clue what it’s going to be bout, and that’s going to keep some people away. Called Attack of the Mushroom People, it’s going to create some unrealistic expectations. The idea is an interesting one, though, and if you twist my arm, I’d suggest that there’s a little bit of influence here on the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis.

We will start, as many an adventure/horror film does, on a boat that soon becomes lost at sea. We have a veritable Gilligan’s Island here in the sense that we’re going to have seven people shipwrecked. First, we have to have a terrible storm that gets them knocked off course and into the middle of nowhere. Our people are Kenji Murai (Akira Kubo), a professor; his assistant Senzo Koyama (Kenji Sahara); writer Etsuro Yoshida (Hiroshi Tachikawa); celebrity and owner of the yacht Masafumi Kasai (Yoshio Tsuchiya); singer Mami Sekiguchi (Kumi Mizuno); student Akiko Soma (Miki Yashiro); and yacht captain Naoyuki Sakuda (Hiroshi Koizumi).

Eventually, the ship winds up on a deserted island, because of course it does. The island is essentially deserted, except there is a shipwreck elsewhere on the island. The main feature of the island is a massive infestation of fungus, which also helps to ensure that there is virtually no food on the island anywhere. What this means is that eventually, the people are going to start eating the mushrooms/fungus out of desperation. This is going to have several effects on them. The main effect is that once they start eating the mushrooms, they become addicted to and dependent on them. More significantly, they start turning into fungus. In other words, the “Mushroom People” from the alternative title aren’t so much attacking our main characters as they are the main characters themselves.

Once people start turning into ambulatory mushrooms, it becomes a story of Professor Murai attempting to get off of the island with Akiko and hoping to keep their humanity intact. It takes us a long time to get there, but once people start eating the mushrooms, things start moving a lot more quickly.

That’s actually the biggest problem with Matango: it’s slow. We go into this expecting some kind of literal attack of mushroom people, and instead, we get people being shipwrecked and fighting over the dwindling stores of canned food. It’s really not until the final act of the film that there is anything here that resembles a real horror movie other than the sets being covered in thick mats of fungal growth.

I think there are a few possible ways to look at Matango and what it means. The first is that it is very clearly an allegory about drugs and drug culture. The people who show up on the island and start eating the mushrooms are immediately addicted to them and lose control over their own minds. They become essentially mushroom zombies focused on eating more mushrooms and getting everyone else to do the same. In interviews with director Ishiro Honda, this is the actual intended message of the movie—addiction leads people into hopelessness.

I think you could probably make an argument for this movie being at least partially about something like peer pressure. You can also make a very easy case for the mutagenic aspects of the fungus to be analogous in some way to the fallout (both literal and figurative) from Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

But is it any good? It’s not terrible. Not a great deal happens until the third act and the surprise moment doesn’t shock the way it should. I’m not always able to guess where a movie is going, but I had this one’s number more often that not and in several instances, I knew where we were going long before we got there. Matango, honestly, is fine but kind of boring and not worth a second look no matter how good the cover art is.

Why to watch Matango: An interesting commentary on drugs.
Why not to watch: The bad guy here is essentially athlete’s foot.


  1. Sadly, I can't take credit. It's something my mom said when she cooked mushrooms.