Matango : 4 of 5

After reading about Eiji Tsuburaya and all the interesting movies he made with Ishiro Honda, I really wanted to see some of these Toho masterpieces! Thankfully there are a few available on DVD (and more finally being released), so I started with the bizarre sounding Matango from 1963 (released in the US with the ridiculous title Attack of the Mushroom People), mainly because it stars my favorite Toho beauty, Kumi Mizuno. This is an incredible movie, because even though it features creatures to some extent (though certainly not kaiju), it's primarily a well-crafted, suspense/horror film that had me on the edge of my seat! The story has often been compared to Lord of the Flies since it depicts how people break down to their selfish desires when forced to survive on a deserted island. In this case, there are seven well-off passengers and crew who suffer through a sudden storm at sea, and soon after they wash ashore, they find a derelict shipwreck covered in mold (one of the most detailed full-size sets I've seen in a Toho film) and strange clues about a species of mushroom called matango. There is excellent acting from everyone (most of whom are in various other Godzilla movies), especially when comparing flashbacks of their former Tokyo nightlife to their base existence on the island, desperately digging for potatoes and turtle eggs, then actually stooping to sell them to each other at high prices. Of course, there is even sexual tension and fighting over the two girls (and Kumi Mizuno's racy character loves the attention), eventually leading to violence. This is definitely not the kind of study of humanity you find in a typical "monster movie"! The DVD includes a full commentary track in Japanese with subtitles (which strays far from talking about the actual film, but is always interesting), plus a great 30-minute interview with the assistant special effects director, who describes front screen projection and optical printing techniques with wonderful nostalgia. Matango feels like an excellent 90-minute episode of The Outer Limits with an incredible story filled with social commentary. If anyone doubts that serious drama can co-exist with Toho-style horror, this is the movie to change your mind!