“FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES”— The World of Tokyo Transvestites

“Funeral Parade of Roses” (“Bara no sôretsu”)

The World of Tokyo Transvestites

Amos Lassen

Eddie is the transvestite hero of Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 Japanese film, “Funeral Parade of Roses”, He first meet him as is playing with his hair, trying to decide whether to wear it up or down. He asks Guerko,  the manager of Tokyo’s Club Genet, where Eddie works as a B-boy what he thinks about the hair. Guerko likes Eddie with hair up or down, but he has a ferocious mistress named Leda, who’s jealous of Eddie and threatens to tell the cops about Guierko’s drug trade.

Eddie is young, beautiful and in love and keeps having flashbacks. As a child, Eddie murdered his mother and her lover with a carving knife. This led to a certain period in jail. However, when we read about this movie, we see that “Funeral Parade of Roses” is “a modern reworking of the Oedipus myth,” We get a hint as to who Guerko actually is and when Eddie finds out…

The film takes us an underworld of male prostitutes, pimps and drug pushers. Director Matsumoto takes the Oedipus myth and turns it inside out, setting it in the world of Tokyo transvestites.  Eddie played by “Peter is the rising star of the gay bar “Club Genet”. A rivalry arises between Eddie and the club’s “madam”, Leda (Osamu Ogasawara) and the owner Guerko (Yoshio Tsuchiya) is caught in the middle.  There is also a film-within-the-film being directed by “Guevara” about political rallies in the streets.

The film is dominated with masked identities, and masks behind masks, and reflects these layers of illusion in its construction.  We are frequently reminded that this is a movie, even the powerful and disturbing climax is undercut by a TV announcer’s commentary and tease for the next program.  The film is fragmented and self-aware, repeating scenes or playing them out like a slapstick comedy. The “plot” of the story is put on hold for joyful, marijuana-fueled bacchanalia and while this technique is exciting, it is also surprising. The film has a major flaw in that the distancing techniques perhaps work a little too well and push the film away from the viewer. There is some intriguing drama that we are pulled into but we also pushed out of other drama. and pulls you into it while pushing you out of it. 

In effect, this is a Sixties art-house take on the ancient Greek legend of Oedipus. The whirling maze of pop art visuals leaves you instantly disorientated only for the gleeful exploitation of the plot to kick in as Eddie, played by Peter, sleeps with his father and murders his mother.

In a predictable twist on the old Greek legend, we first find Eddie in the arms of his boss, Guerko (Furamenko Umeji) of the Genet Bar The plot follows Eddie’s traumatized quest to win the heart of Gureko who is also being pursued by femme fatale Leda (Osamu Ogasawaro). It’s an ugly little love triangle that is further complicated by Eddie’s tortured past haunting him with hallucinatory images of his mother prodding cigarette stubs through photos of his father. The central conflict between Eddie and Leda over Gureko’s affection is the catalyst leading to the surprisingly gory climatic scenes that may leave the faint of heart feeling ill in the stomach.

“Funeral Parade of Roses” offers a unique glimpse into a nation’s embryonic efforts at art-house cinema. The film is packed with an increasingly odd mix of animation scenes coupled with uncanny montage sequences. We also gain insight into early Japanese cinema with this, a genuinely entertaining movie. The shock horror sequences where Gureko and Eddie learn the awful truth behind their ‘mystical’ attraction is a little over-kill but doesn’t detract from the pulse and style of the film. In a truly unflinching and relentless depiction of the gay subculture in sixties Tokyo, Matsumoto’s debut work will both shock as well as charm viewers.

Just last week, Matsumoto died  on April 12, 2017 in Tokyo. He was 85, and passed away due to an intestinal obstruction. He re-invented Japanese cinema with this film.

Matsumoto’s chose to set the Oedipus story in the Tokyo drag scene and then intercut the narrative with documentary segments about both the drag scene and the making of “Funeral Parade of Roses”. itself.

When the film was released in 1969, Peter who plays Eddie was one of Japan’s most popular drag queens. We follow him and his friends as they go through life and we see that Eddie is haunted by his childhood, and a mysterious picture of his father with the face burned out. If you know the Oedipus legend, you can more or less guess the rest of the story. However, the film is also a snapshot of late ’60s queer Tokyo scene.

Matsumoto’s work is known by its visual experimentation and this film shows that to be true. Not only are the lines between documentary and fiction blurred but Matsumoto also includes collage, different methods of processing the film.

Unfortunately this is a difficult film to find in the United States and there is now a campaign to get the Criterion Collection  to release the film — so if you want to see this film in the United States legally without relying on expensive imports, send an email to Criterion requesting that they release it.

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