Reminiscing the Forgotten – Matango (1963)

An insane trip into a world of people, who slowly become fungus after landing on a desolate island.

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There should be a completely separate genre in cinema known as “disturbing”, where only the most bizarre, unrealistic movies would find their place. This is the case of Japanese film “Matango”, which more than causing sudden trepidation and jump-scares, offers a constant level of unease, surpassing a vast majority of up-to-date horrors in being terrifying. 

A variety of characters including a hired captain, a writer and a university’s professor, gathers for a sea voyage on a luxurious yacht. Due to harsh weather circumstances, their boat crushes, but the group luckily survives and lands on an uninhabitated island. Ransacking the harrowing isle, the survivors find out more about its mysterious environment.

Ishiro Honda’s “Matango” opens with a short monologue of a man, who’s telling a story about his haunting journey into a desolate island, depicting terror he went through there. The director then winds back the clock and exhibits in details what has exactly happened on this lurid island. Don’t get distraught by the vague beginnings and slapstick cruising scenes, because Honda knew exactly when to push the action. Just as his characters find themselves surrounded by water up to the horizon – the real film starts. Honda digs into the unease and fear, which sprawls among the crew faster than the killing fungus.

Honda’s main interest in “Matango” is exploring the extent to which humans can work together when death’s upon them. Although it’s not anything particularly new, it works fine in this Japanese “horror” – the progressive paranoia of the characters, caused by unbearable fear and hunger, pushes them to no longer act like human beings. What is fascinating, is how Honda portrays this self-interest of an individual pushed to the wall – these people never really wanted to leave this island together, but it’s hard to say why. And surprisingly, it’s not a drawback of “Matango” at all – on the contrary, we observe those several people, who are fully aware of the inevitability of their end. They all praise the same idea: work on your own, it might pay off. There is no trust among them, but what is present, is the prejudice that it’s impossible for them to survive as a whole.

“Matango” is fun to watch mainly thanks to this psychedelic atmosphere and ubiquitous weirdness. The fungus people are awaited till the very end of the film, but the make-up makes up for this late appearance – the last half an hour of the film is a brilliantly nightmarish vision, especially with regard to the fact it was directed in the 60s! The tension is dozed accurately as well, which is a reward for rather tedious beginnings of the film. I admit I was expecting a funny, B-class horror – eventually, “Matango” gives the creeps, I was certainly not prepared for.

What’s also interesting, “Matango” was banned in Japan upon its release. The fungus people reminisced people suffering from post-nuke radiation and that was the reason for Honda’s film to be suspended from national distribution. It has never reached US as well, but despite those stumbling blocks, the film turned itself into a subject of a cinematic cult. A duo of director Ishiro Honda and special-effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, responsible for “Matango”, is also the crew responsible for the iconic “Godzilla” from 1954. Now one can get the picture of the fungus people creators.

It’s not Kubrick’s psychedelic cinema, it’s not Jodorowsky or more up-to-date von Trier. Nevertheless, Ishiro Honda’s “Matango” found its glorious place among the most disturbing, unusual films I have ever seen. Those, who like their minds being blown – lay your hands on the copy of “Matango”.

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