Funeral Parade of Roses (1969, Japan) dir. Toshio Matsumoto. Feature film. B&W, 35mm.
(Japanese title “bara no souretsu” 薔薇の葬列)
Funeral Parade of Roses tells a twisted, doubled, postmodern Oedipus Rex story with Japan’s gay bars as the setting. The main character, Eddy (played brilliantly here by the actor Peter), a beautiful transvestite, strives for a better position at the gay bar in which he works. However, as he gets closer and closer to displacing his “mama-san” Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), flashbacks from his violent past become more and more frequent. Eddy finds himself involved with a group of druggies and experimental filmmakers that includes the mysterious Guevara (Toyosaburo Uchiyama) along the way.
But reducing this film to such a simple “plot” summary does it no justice. I can’t even begin to describe the amazing structure of the film, which uses documentary footage, parody sequences, postmodern pastiche, and a non-linear timespace structure to create a mesmerizing yet disheartening material world. The movie also involves several films-within-a-film: a documentary, Guevara’s art films, and possibly another film very similar to Funeral Parade. At any one time, are we watching a fiction film, a documentary, or some kind of “metafilm?” And are the characters meant to be taken seriously? The line between art, protest, and ridiculous nonsense becomes blurred, and we find it difficult to discern what we are meant to see in any one scene.
The film references multiple sources of all types, whether through movie posters on the street or direct visual cues. For example, the “evil” boss Leda is often seen in a mirror like the evil queen in Snow White. As you can see from the image, the black-and-white cinematography is absolutely gorgeous.
Speaking of references, I noticed several cinematic techniques that closely, closely resemble those used in certain scenes of A Clockwork Orange, which was made two years later. These similarities will be the subject of a later article.
Fans of the 1960s will love this film, it has everything from mod clothes to go-go dancing to drug-addled parties. The documentary sequences, when they can be discerned, also offer an interesting look into the time period.
Peter’s acting is fantastic between Eddy’s present and past selves, as well as the coy/dangerous dichotomy that dictates his actions.
Many scenes seem out-of-place or not part of the film at all…until we cut to the next scene and realize what they were. Constantly sorting out the film’s broken-up timespace, exploring Eddy’s past and present, we are disoriented, yet the film’s plot still comes through. Similarly, the multiple “references” to other works don’t have to be understood or registered for one to enjoy the film, although they certainly add deeper dimensions to one’s appreciation of its complexities. A wonderful balance of experimentalism-disorientation and dramatic plot moments is created.
However, breaks from the “main” narrative in the form of drug parties and multiple scenes of parties at the gay bar take away a lot from the film. They are fun and ridiculous to watch, but go on for too long and for
too many scenes. It’s an interesting “realist” break from a strict narrative (which does reach a resolution), along with the film’s many dangling plot threads, but just like the pot party scene in Blow-Up, it only makes me feel impatient. The same issue is present in the sex scenes – there are too many of them and they go on for too long. It’s very funny to hear the disjointed carnival music used throughout the film ironically enter and exit during parts of these “love scenes,” but it feels as if the point could be made in one or two shorter scenes. What we do see is in extreme close-up, difficult to discern, and very uncomfortable. But perhaps, knowing this, Matsumoto deliberately drew these scenes out to excess.
Thus the “pointlessness” of these scenes and my impatience just shows how far I am from the era and from the real message of this film – that there is no message, that ultimately the line between parody and drama is almost nonexistent.
Availability: The UK DVD and Japanese DVD (both region 2) both have English subtitles. Unfortunately there is no Region 1 DVD for the USA yet, but for those with region-free players….you know what to do >: )