This is free-form, counter-cultural Japanese cinema at its astonishing best—playful, powerful and brutal all in the same breath.
Dir. Toshio Matsumoto
1969 | Japan | Drama/Experimental | 105 mins | 1.37:1 | Japanese
R21 (passed clean) for homosexual theme
Cast: Pita, Osamu Ogasawara, Yoshimi Jo
Plot: The trials and tribulations of Eddie and other transvestites in Tokyo.
Source: Arbelos Films
Subject Matter: Mature/Disturbing
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
(Reviewed at The Projector, as part of the ‘Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s–1990s’ programme by the National Gallery)
Wow. Just wow. I’ve seen countless films over the last ten or so years, but very few truly blow my mind. So, I just want to say that it is a huge deal when a film like Funeral Parade of Roses, which I frankly have not heard of before until recently, absolutely floored me—it is a testament to the thrill and gratification of cinematic discovery on a personal level.
The film’s cult status is befitting of its subject matter, where it explores the underground transvestite scene in late ‘60s Tokyo. We follow Eddie, a man who lives openly as a woman, unfazed by disapproving societal attitudes and embracing sexuality as an affirmation of one’s identity.
She works in a gay bar, and being hipper and more modern (and of course sexier than anyone else), she triggers jealousy in the older head ‘madame’ of the bar, who becomes frustrated when Eddie comes between her and her boss-cum-lover.
The film is, of course, so much more than just a story about a love triangle. Under the hands of Toshio Matsumoto, who is unheard of in these parts (and by these parts I mean that place where critics and cinephiles seem to only worship certain proclaimed gods of Japanese cinema), Funeral Parade of Roses tears away nearly every boundary of cinema—perhaps even tearing away the sanctity that is the cinema, in what could be one of the greatest experimental films ever made.
“This is my first movie and I’m interested. My circumstances are like his. That’s one reason. And the gay life is portrayed beautifully.”
This is free-form, counter-cultural cinema at its astonishing best—it is playful, powerful and brutal all in the same breath. If someone like Godard had created something like this, those auteur theory advocates would have lapped it up like dogs with tails wagging. But this is Matsumoto, and the question is Matsumoto who? Well… does it really matter?
Seeing Funeral Parade of Roses must be how it feels like taking a psychedelic pill, as it toys with not just viewers’ emotions but their capacity to accept fractured people in a fractured world. How it must feel to be chastised. Or be swept under the tide of moral patronisation. Or be burdened by guilt.
In trying to paint an authentic picture of underground gay bars and tackling a taboo subject non-linearly through both narrative and documentary form (including deviously playing with its meta-cinematic qualities), Matsumoto has in a way made his ‘Once Upon a Time in…’, and by some miraculous cosmic sleigh-of-hand, in 1969.