Funeral Parade of Roses
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An outrageous, avant garde cult classic barely known outside of Japan for decades, this gender-bending, swinging '60s updating of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex has finally come into its own among English-speaking viewers in the digital age. Director Toshio Matsumoto, an accomplished creator of numerous experimental short films both before and after this one, made his feature debut with this film and proved he knew how to adopt the more far-out innovations of the French and Czech New Wave filmmakers, among many others.
The storyline, which exists in the loosest sense, follows the counterculture lifestyle of Eddie and other Tokyo "gay boys" who range from hippies to drag queens. In what was a very daring bit of casting at the time, Eddie's nightclub-owning lover, Gonda, is played by Yoshio Tsuchiya, a well-known actor since the 1950s who had turned up in multiple Akira Kurosawa and Godzilla films, as well as starring as the title character in The H-Man (1958). In fact, his appearance in this very film was sandwiched by roles in Destroy All Monsters (1968) and Space Amoeba (1970), just to give you an idea. Gonda's Shinjiku establishment is called the Genet Bar, a big shout out to one of the biggest influences on this film, and it's a hotbed of competition and jealousy with Eddie locking horns for Gonda's attentions with the older matriarch of the club, Leda (played by one-shot thespian Osamu Ogasawara). However, that's the least of Eddie's problems since he's repeatedly haunted by visions of his dead mother and his absent father. You might be able to figure out where that's all heading, but there's no way of anticipating how it actually plays out on film.
The main attraction here of course is Eddie himself, played by the fascinating Peter (or "Pîtâ" as he's referred to in Japan). Born Shinnosuke Ikehata, he possessed a lithe figure and soft features that made him ideal for his debut starring role here. A dance club regular himself, he sported a number of glamorous looks for this film that anticipated his skillful adoption of a pop culture personality as a singer-actor-dancer triple threat. He would go on to appear in several later films, most notably as Kyoami in Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985) and a memorably bitchy turn as a brothel madam in Shûji Terayama's peculiar Fruits of Passion (1981). Since then, he has become a fixture on Japanese TV, popping up in numerous miniseries, reality programs and talk shows while also adorning the covers and pages of several magazines.
By virtue of its vintage, Funeral Parade of Roses may not exactly be an empowering LGBT statement today but instead functions as a priceless time capsule of gay culture and attitudes in Japan at the time. Its use of unscripted interviews gives the film a raw and immediate sensation that manages to balance out the more extreme touches (like cartoon speech balloons), and not one to waste a worthy piece of work, Matsumoto even integrates footage from his short film "Ecstasis" made earlier in 1969.
Toshio Matsumoto largely stayed with the short film format after this, though he did craft a more accessible and equally worthwhile revenge tale, Demons (1971), which is ripe for rediscovery as well. However, it's likely that Funeral Parade of Roses will be the film for which he is best remembered, not least for its likely and aesthetically apparent stylistic influence on Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). It may have taken a few decades, but this film's mixture of revolutionary cinema technique and piercing social statement still remains bold and wholly unique.
By Nathaniel Thompson