Funeral Parade of Roses is a psychedelic mindfuck of a film made about people who are transgender, for lack of a better term. It’s a bizarre mixture of documentary, ‘60s underground culture in Tokyo. There is a pop art feel with comic book speech balloons on screen—very much of its time in one way but ahead of its time in others. The closest comparison in the rest would be perhaps Daisies which has a similar anarchic approach to filmmaking.
It’s an interesting window into a scene that I don’t know much about or even probably most of Japanese society does. There are aspects of the Greek myth of Oedipus as well. It follows a character called Eddie who works in the Genet Bar. There are interviews and also straightforward film sequences, but then there are also sped-up scenes that Kubrick ripped off for Clockwork Orange—he has cited this film as the main visual influence, and when you see it, you’ll quickly spot the similarities between the two. There is also use of electronic Beethoven on the soundtrack, William Klein, a bit of Pasolini (a reference acknowledged in the film when a poster appears on screen), nods to the French New Wave, and even horror movie elements with scenes of extreme violence.
Although it could be lumped in with the Japanese New Wave, but director Toshio Matsumoto came out of the avant garde ‘60s cinema scene in Japan. This was Matsumoto’s first full feature, but he had already done several shorts and documentaries.
The main character was in real life a sort of drag performer, and later appeared in Ran. Some of the other cast also appeared in Kurosawa’s films and in other Japanese films of the time.
It’s a bit jarring narratively, but connects well enough. Despite the obvious outside influences, Funeral Parade of Roses inhabits its own weird little universe. It never had a proper release in the US, so few will have seen it, and you will be blown away. There’s a 60s psychedelic score that really ought to have its own release, and lots of tricks played with the sound editing. The actors break the third wall and even talk about the making of the film during it. It’s a constantly surprising film: there’s a love triangle that morphs into the mythological narrative, and stranger turns from there. The visual composition is stunning—although it was shot in black and white, the shots and imagery are so vivid that you almost think it’s in colour. There’s also quite a grisly climax.
This re-release is a 4K restoration from Cinelicious, and includes a audio commentary by Chris D. of The Flesh Eaters fame, a bonus disc with eight shorts by Matsumoto, an essay from a Japanese film history scholar, and more.