Mantango opens in a somber note, looking over an unspecified brightly lit, neon-layered Japanese city, where ‘60s Toho actor Akira Kubo sits in a cell. He discusses his insanity, locked up for his belief that his friends were taken over by a race of mushroom people on an uncharted island. No one believes him, hence his current imprisonment, and he’s left to waste away while doctors try to understand his story.
Compared to the usual output of sci-fi and horror from the studio during this period, Mantango is a distinct, wild departure. Moving from the colorful epics such as Rodan and Godzilla, Mantango is downtrodden, depressing, and psychological. It is not, as the eventual US title states, an “attack” of mushroom people. Instead, Mantango is a weird spin on human survival, love, hunger, and helplessness.
A small cast, including fan favorite beauty Kumi Mizuno, decide to escape the city life to cruise on a yacht together. A storm destroys the boat, landing them on a deserted island where they come across another stranded ship, full of an odd fungus.
Only a fleeting moment of happiness exists in the film, that in which Mizuno sings a small tune on the boat a day prior to the storm. Everything turns around for this previously happy cast as their starvation leads to desperation.
It is possible to dissect the film on a different level than what is presented. The trippy effect of the island’s mushrooms in conjunction with the way they’re calling to the crew to eat them, could present itself as a mind game. The “mushroom people” and their somewhat cartoonish design could be nothing more than hallucinations brought on by a sickness. Certainly the various molds on board the ship grounded on the island lends some credibility to this theory.
Tossing aside any implied narrative choices, director Ishiro Honda takes a vastly different direction than in his previous work, both in style and pacing. Mantango is brooding, slowly building a sense of terror through use of fog and giving the audience fleeting glimpses of the threat living on the unspecified island.