I think most people have a film that they saw when they were younger, one that stayed with them, perhaps even haunted them, into their adult years. For example, one of my friends can't watch the film Trilogy of Terror (1975), specifically the scenes with that little Zuni doll, without having a full blown freakout ...my youthful cinematic scarring occurred at the hands of Mantango: Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) aka Curse of the Mushroom People, Fungus of Terror, Matango the Fungus of Terror, Matango: Fungus of Terror...I remember seeing it on WFLD in Chicago (before it got co-opted by FOX) on the Son of Svengoolie show in the early 80's, and while I didn't remember much of it prior to watching it last night, certain visuals from the film have been stuck clearly in my mind for the past 20 years. Funny thing is I've hesitated watching this film, as I purchased it back in January of this year, but, there comes a time when one must face his or her demons...looking back, I can see how this could have warped me at a tender young age, given the strength of some of the scenes, but since having learned the true horrors of life (working for a living and such), the film seems more bizarre than frightening now, so many years later. Directed by the legendary Ishirô Honda (The Mysterians, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Mothra), appearing in the film is Akira Kubo (Gorath), Kumi Mizuno (Frankenstein Conquers the World), Hiroshi Koizumi (Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster), Yoshio Tsuchiya (The Monster Varan), Kenji Sahara (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla), Hiroshi Tachikawa (Gorath), Miki Yashiro (Godzilla vs. Mothra), along with Eisei Amamoto (King Kong Escapes), credited as `Skulking Transitional Matango'.
The story begins at the psych ward at Tokyo Medical Center as we listen to what appears to be an internal monologue from a patient, but it's hard to tell as his back is to the camera. This segues into a flashback with some very peppy pop music and 7 people (5 men and 2 women) crusing the ocean on the sailing yacht Aho Dori, which, I think, means short-tailed albatross. Aboard the yacht is Mami (Mizuno), Akiko (Yashiro), Etsuro (Tachikawa), Kenji (Kubo), Fumio (Tsuchiya), Naoyuki (Koizumi), and Senzo (Sahara). Anyway, night falls, a storm hits, one that features giant waves pounding a miniature boat, and the next day we see a very damaged yacht adrift in foggy, unknown waters. Hope arrives in the form of an island, and the group makes their way to shore, and begin searching for food and water, noticing an unusually large amount of mushrooms growing throughout the area. While traversing the seemingly deserted island, they find a derelict, beached, research ship grounded on the beach, one covered with fungus. After finding some canned goods on the ship, they decide to take up residence, and begin making plans to fix their yacht. Tensions build as the food runs out, and it appears they may not be alone on the island as shadowy, lumpy figures visit the ship during the night. What happened to the crew of the research vessel? There weren't any corpses on the ship, and the captain's log offers little in the form of answers...perhaps their disappearance had something to do with the fungus that populates the island (you bet your mold covered bippy it does)...
Someone else mentioned this, and it occurred to me as well, in as far as at times I got a sense I was watching an episode of Gilligan's Island, if David Lynch had directed it. We have a small ship that runs afoul of some adverse weather, and the seven castaways are stranded on a deserted isle. As far as characters go, there's Mami, a professional singer/part time strumpet, who would be the Ginger character, Akiko, the student, is Mary Ann, Naoyuki is the Skipper, Etsuro, the goofball writer, is Gilligan, Kenji, a university professor, is obviously the Professor, Fumio, the rich businessman (who's also the dork dressed in full sea captain gear including the hat), is Mr. Howell, and Senzo, the deckhand would have to be Mrs. Howell only because there's no one else left (sorry Senzo). But seriously, this has to have been one of the strangest films I've seen in awhile. The story was pretty slow throughout, but I found it really interesting as director Honda does an amazing job creating a moody, oppressive, nightmarish atmosphere that permeates the film much like the fog on the island. Looking at the title, one would get the impression of a silly B type movie, but the tone is pretty serious, about as serious as one can get given the antagonistic fungi factor involved. The performances and characters were decent, but what really sells the film is the overall direction, extensive sets, and appropriately creepy musical score, along with some fairly sophisticated special effects (for the time). There were some scenes near the end where I felt like I was watching a Sid and Marty Krofft (the pair responsible for such wiggy 70's television fare as H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters), particularly when the giant fungus creatures become more active, but the overall production worked well to overcome any minor silliness attributed to limitations on the visual effects regarding the giant shrooms. Is there a moral implication present with regards to the consumption of the mushrooms (they induce psychedelic hallucinations, among other things) and their harmful after effects? There sure is, and it worked on me...I've never eaten a mushroom I've found in the woods. I think my favorite scene in the film was when we saw Etsuro Yoshida, the goofy writer character (the Gilligan character), sitting in a patch of mushrooms, consuming them with a silly grin on his face. Oh, and by the way, I'd rather eat my left foot than any food I might have found on that wreck of a vessel, especially if I thought the ship was involved in some sort of nuclear research.
Media Blasters presents a superior anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) picture, along with three audio tracks including English 5.1 Surround, English mono, and Japanese Mono (I'd recommend the Japanese mono with English subtitles, but to each his own). There are some worthwhile extras including a commentary track by star Akira Kubo, an interview with chief assistant director of special effects Teruyoshi Nakano, a spoken word piece with scenes and stills from the movie by writer Masami Fukushima, and an original theatrical trailer. There are also previews for other Media Blasters releases including Dagora, the Space Monster (1964), Gappa, the Triphibian Monster (1967), The Mysterians (1957), and Varan the Unbelievable (1962).