Blu Notes: MATANGO「マタンゴ」⋅ 2017 ⋅ Toho Visual Entertainment

Blu Notes: MATANGO「マタンゴ」⋅ 2017 ⋅ Toho Visual Entertainment

Eiji Tsuburaya’s lauded effects production takes a backseat in this oddball genre offering from Toho studios, released to critical ambivalence and general audience confusion in the fall of 1963. A standout among Toho’s glitzier sci-fi actioners and giant monster fantasies, if by virtue of its peculiarity alone, Matango has more in common with contemporaneous Stateside horrors than the noir-inflected ero guro thrillers and folk adaptations common to Japanese cinema at the time. The influence of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is felt not just in the fundamental nature of the film’s threat, but in a framing device in which Matango‘s story is related by an institutionalized Akira KUBO (Sanjuro), while the narrative focus on a microcosm of stranded humanity recalls a whole generation of post-nuclear survivor yarns (Five, The World the Flesh and the Devil, The Day the World Ended) as well as counter-culture horrors yet to come (Night of the Living Dead and rival Shochiku’s Goke Body Snatcher From Hell).

Adapted and expanded from William Hope Hodgson’s The Voice in the Night by screenwriter Takeshi KIMURA (The Last War), with magazine editor Masami FUKUSHIMA and scifi author Shinichi HOSHI contributing to early drafts, Matango follows a small band of socialites who find themselves stranded on a deserted island after a storm all but destroys their yacht. There they find plentiful water and evidence of past inhabitants, including numerous sunken ships, but no people, no animals, and no food beyond a strange and prevalent psychotropic mushroom. As hunger mounts tensions within the group rise, leading to increasingly violent in-fighting, but weirder terrors stalk the nighttime shadows, creatures somehow related to the mysterious mushroom Matango.

Though largely dismissed upon release Matango proved a favorite among many of its cast (including Kumi MIZUNO, Akira Kubo, and the late Yoshio TSUCHIYA), and its distinctly adult thrills have helped to differentiate it from many of its tokusatsu contemporaries and assured its continued relevance as a cult item. Matango still sees frequent theatrical screenings and, since the late-’80s heyday of VHS and Laserdisc, has rarely been out of print on home video.

Toho (under their Toho Visual Entertainment imprint) have been slow to release their library of classic genre works to Blu-ray, a result of the lukewarm reception of their first round of HD releases way back in 2009, and more recent releases have come by way of cross-promotion for new films (the remainder of the Showa-era Godzilla films, for instance, arrived in conjunction with 2014’s Godzilla). Now, with promotion for the impending animated feature Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters in full swing, Matango has finally made the jump as well. It’s a pity that Toho don’t find more value in these older films, at least in the home media arena (Matango has been available in streaming HD for years now), but I suppose them’s the breaks. Evidence of this is obvious from just the packaging alone, which loses the attractive matching slip-covers of the past tokusatsu blu-ray releases and regurgitates the haphazardly rendered insert artwork for the earlier and oft-reissued DVD.

The scan itself is comparable to the better among the company’s vintage tokusatsu releases, but also shows signs of Toho’s diminished interest – the scan goes largely un-restored (surprising given them degree of work evidenced in their classic Godzilla blu-rays, problematic though they may be), with visible splice marks being the most noticeable among its inadequacies. Otherwise Matango shows all the strengths and weaknesses of past efforts, the improved color and detail mitigated by indifferent contrast, occasional aliasing, and a persistent patina of scanner noise. While the image is smoother in motion than the DVD, the HD scan is just too old and the DVD too strong for it to leave much of an impression by comparison. A fresh scan taking advantage of modern 2k or 4k tech could well have provided better results, particularly for a film with as many dark and hazy sequences as this one. Such as it is Matango looks fine, and I’m certainly glad to have it, but it’s a far cry from what the format is capable of.

Audio options duplicate the earlier DVD edition, presenting the film in the original monophonic Japanese in a sound DTS-HD encode. Quality is in line with Toho’s earlier Blu-ray tracks, and I’ve no significant complaints. Typical of Toho, there are no English subtitle or audio options, though an optional set of SDH Japanese subtitles are included for the feature. Supplements mostly replicate the DVD edition (those with the Media Blasters US release already have them, and subtitled no less), and include an interview with effects assistant Teruyoshi NAKANO, The World of Masami Fukushima, and an audio commentary with actor Akira Kubo. New to the disc are a set of production notes, presented in HD (albeit text only, and perhaps reprinted from the insert included with the DVD), and Matango: View of Making Film, which offers a brief (4 and a half minutes) look at color concept art for the effects sequences and a short run of 8mm behind the scenes footage. The original Japanese trailer for the film, presented in native HD, rounds out the extra material.

Matango turns 55 next year, and while Toho’s blu-ray isn’t terrible by any means it’s tough not to see where improvements could have been made. Had the film been newly scanned, or the surviving cast and crew tapped for new interviews (a la the company’s Godzilla discs), this might well have been elevated to a must-have disc. As it is this release never transcends its place as a gauche commercial tie-in for a feature Matango has no real relation to, and that’s a damned shame.

A note on this review, and Blu Notes articles to come: While in the past I have been enthusiastic about including screenshots for any video reviews, and still find them as useful and instructive as I ever have, at present I can neither take nor provide them. My wife and I moved aboard a boat in the Spring of 2016, and the dedicated review tech I had at the time (a behemoth of a PC which I still miss dearly) was disposed of out of considerations for space. There should be plenty of reputable sources for screenshots for most of the discs to be reviewed on these pages, but for the rest, and in advance, my apologies.