'Funeral Parade of Roses' ('Bara no sôretsu'): Film Review
Toshio Matsumoto mixes fiction and documentary techniques to depict a LGBTQ scene in late-1960s Tokyo.
A window into a freewheeling, late-'60s Tokyo even many Japanophiles will be unfamiliar with, Funeral Parade of Roses centers on a gay subculture thriving in bars staffed by men in drag. Spicing its fictional narrative up with snippets of documentary interviews, experimental interludes and fractured chronology, it was released in 1969 by Toshio Matsumoto, a theorist and experimental film/video artist especially interested in boundary-testing documentary films. Practically unseen here, it has been restored by Cinelicious, the same folks who recently brought the oversexed psychedelic cartoon Belladonna of Sadness to these shores, and it should appeal to many of the same exotica-hungry cinephiles, in addition to LGBT moviegoers curious about this chapter of their history.
Mastumoto’s first feature film after many experimental and documentary shorts (he died this April at 85), the picture has one foot in the world of the avant-garde: We sometimes hang out in attic rooms where art-damaged characters show their movies to each other but spend more time getting high or longing for drugs they don't have. The ringleader here is an unconvincingly bearded auteur called Guevara.
But its main storyline revolves around a more commercial underground, where bars cater to businessmen who likely are living in the closet. In one, the Bar Genet, the main attraction is Eddie (Shinnosuke Ikehata, aka "Peter," a real-world drag celebrity who continues to perform today). Eddie, young and waiflike with mascara-enhanced eyes, is stealing attention from the club's older Madame, Leda (Osamu Ogasawara); she's also secretly edging in on Leda's boyfriend, Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya, a pro actor who worked with Kurosawa). This rivalry drives the plot in a herky-jerky way — Leda seems to catch the couple coming out of a love hotel at the movie's start, but then we're hopping around in time to points at which she was merely suspicious and angry. At its most amusing, this conflict erupts into a pop-surreal barroom confrontation in which anger is manifested in a cork-gun showdown and insults fly about in comic-book word balloons.
Elsewhere, Matsumoto pokes fun at dramatic scenes by accompanying them with hokey carousel music or undercranking the camera — as when a police raid on the club results in Gonda and a partner in fast motion, rifling through the office to get out all the drugs and other contraband.
But as cheeky as it is, Funeral Parade is no comedy. Periodically, it switches to on-the-street interviews in an attempt to understand the youths who call themselves "gay boys," but don't necessarily mean that in the contemporary sense; some appear to be fairly unhappy in the lifestyle. And as is hinted several times, Eddie is due for some tragedy at the end, enacting a twisted sort of Eddie-pus Rex episode that the production appears to have inflicted on innocent bystanders like some horrific Happening. Reportedly, Stanley Kubrick was very influenced by all this while imagining A Clockwork Orange; while the films are very different, a certain ratio of sex, horror and nihilistic comedy gives each a peculiarly magnetic power.
Production companies: ATG, Matsumoto
Distributors: Cinelicious Pics, Cinefamily
Cast: Shinnosuke Ikehata (aka Peter), Yoshio Tsuchiya, Osamu Ogasawara, Yoshimi Jo, Koichi Nakamura, Saako Ota, Flamenco Umeji, Taro Manji, Toyosaburo Uchiyama
Director-Screenwriter: Toshio Matsumoto
Producer: Mitsuru Kudo
Director of photography: Tatsuo Suzuki
Editor: Toshie Iwasa
Composer: Joji Yuasa