Funeral Parade of Roses is at first glance the simple tale of minor squabbling at a flourishing gay bar in Tokyo. Head hostess, Leda and the enigmatic- and vastly more attractive- Eddie bicker it out for the attentions of bar owner Gonda. Leda views Eddie as a threat and wants to get rid of him. Eddie has his own agenda, and also tries to pursue a career in film. Yet the film is so much more than just a bunch of hostesses competing in a popularity contest. Director Toshio Matsumoto fuses his story with many layers to make something both tragic and beautiful. Funeral Parade of Roses pushes the envelope for its time and place; adding in elements of Greek tragedy- Oedipus Rex- political imagery of Tokyo at a time of civil unrest, and a strong focus on Japanese gay subculture, drug taking and hippy ideals. As such director Toshio Matsumoto presents the viewers with something that is brutally honest, striking in both its visuals and hard edged storytelling, and unforgettably unique.
The director, cast and crew.
Toshio Matsumoto made only four full length features developing a cutting edge, experimental and new wave style that crossed the boundaries of traditional cinema. This film was Matsumoto’s first foray into full-length features, which represents a strong debut into what was to become a fairly limited- but nevertheless memorable- career in this arena; Matsumoto did make a large number of shorts and documentary shorts, however, and one has to wonder why he did not make more full features given the standard and innovation demonstrated here.
Casting is key to the success of the film with a very young- just 19 at the time- Pita given the role of the enigmatic Eddie. Pita gives his performance an air of light and honesty, and almost childish innocence, regardless of the harsher themes at play. While the main character is haunted by a dark past, he is nevertheless grounded in a sense of playfulness and youthful naivety that contrasts perfectly to the nastier elements in the plot. It also has to be mentioned the striking beauty of the androgynous Pita- portraying very successfully both flamboyant glamour as a drag queen, and untainted youth as a teenage boy- adds to his mesmerising performance.
For the rest of the supporting cast, there are some really interesting and colourful characters that populate the film, from the hipster hippy filmmaker Guevera (Toyosaburo Uchiyama), to insecure hostess Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), seedy bar owner Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya) and Eddie’s friends from the club. Everyone brings with them an extra bit of flavour to add to the proceedings. Performances are strong throughout with no obvious weak links on show. What is quite remarkable is the quality of the acting on offer here when you consider that most of the cast here were unknowns, with many of the actors only performing in this one film.
Matsumoto employs a number of unconventional editing techniques to make a stylish feature that seeps retro cool; adding in surreal set pieces which veer from the main plotline to give the overall piece an extra depth. Such pieces include political statements in the form of news broadcasts, strange street protests. We also have Eddie’s dreamlike ‘projections’( for example a line of naked men with Eddie at the end; a single Rose inserted into his buttocks) and single shots of close ups of faces or thoughts represented in icons without narrative. There is also a deliberate playing with continuity in the flow of the overall plotline, and within how the characters move around their scenes. Tying into this is a back story of Eddie’s difficult past that comes in the form of violent and graphic flashbacks. It has been well documented that this film played a direct influence on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and if you have seen both films there is an obvious comparison. Along with the violence- which includes a startling climax- the film also offers some lighter, offbeat flourishes. One of the purest examples of this is a scene where two hostesses fight it out via onscreen speech bubbles, their wild bitch slapping and wig pulling that follows, played out in double time to some comedy style music. The moody black and white photography compliments the stylish nature of the piece; while locations of a late 60’s Tokyo- and the contrast between traditional and modern culture- give the film a true sense of iconic panache.
The Highs and Lows.
Funeral Parade of Roses will not appeal to everyone, mainly down to the unflinching portrayal of gay subculture in late 60’s Toyko- it all depends on how conformable you are with the theme. Although the film is hardly graphic- by today’s standards at least- it does represent homosexually and transgender culture comfortably and without restraint. One thing that is striking in particular slotted into the main framework of Eddie and his daily dealings, there lies a sub strand in the plot of a film being made within a film. Throughout this- in a mockumentary style- the young characters are interviewed on camera about their sexuality. On this basis, the film does carry a strong sense of honesty and despite the wacky editing techniques at play is without pretence. The story is bathed in tragedy and alongside the strong characterisations makes for a compelling watch. The snappy and eccentric editing and approach to building up the story could be off-putting to some. However if you enjoy something that is off the wall and does not follow traditional cinematic rules Funeral Parade of Roses offers this up in leaps and bounds. Most importantly Funeral Parade of Roses offers an extremely artistic vision that comes infused with strong violence, and unforgettable performances throughout making for an extremely rewarding and immersive experience and one which comes highly recommended by this reviewer.