“A feverish collision of avant-garde aesthetics and grindhouse shocks (not to mention a direct influence on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Funeral Parade of Roses takes us on an electrifying journey into the nether-regions of the late-’60s Tokyo underworld.
Cross-dressing club-kid Eddie (played by real-life transvestite entertainer extraordinaire Peter, famed for his role as Kyoami the Fool in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran) vies with a rival drag-queen (Osamu Ogasawara) for the favours of drug-dealing cabaret-manager Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya, himself a Kurosawa player who appeared in such films as Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and High and Low). Passions escalate and blood begins to flow – before all tensions are released in a jolting climax.” (Plot Synopsis from Lovefilm.com)
It’s tempting not to review this film, but just to show a bunch of stills and leave them to stand alone as a recommendation to view the whole thing. Almost any frame can be grabbed and held up as a beautifully composed image, but mostly it becomes fascinating for the barrage of eclectic formal experiments.
While these stills show the exciting variety of shot scales and compositional spectacles, they don’t convey the ways in which the mash-up of documentary and fictional techniques drives the film forward. The film provides a mix of extreme narrative contrivance and naturalistic, Brechtian interview with ordinary people and cast members out of character. Peter’s interview to camera even hints at the plot twist which has not yet been revealed. Matsumoto wanted to blend together his disparate cinematic influences; he hails from a documentary background, but was fascinated by Italian neo-realism and the avant-garde, and each of these modes complements, comments on or occasionally undermines the others. Moments of apparently naturalistic documentary footage give way to blatant fabrication and vice versa. At every step, the fiction is undermined by images of its construction. Scenes are linked with bursts of leader film or still images. A sex scene focusing on Eddie’s ecstatic facial expressions is cut short by a shot of the scene being filmed, revealing that he is writhing alone on the bed. Is this scene telling us that Eddie is acting in adult films, or is it an entirely self-reflexive insert to puncture the fictional bubble? Even his final scene of self mutilation is interrupted by a contact shot of stills of the scene being shot, and a cheerful commentator who asks the viewer: “Frightening, isn’t it?”
Whatever it did for progressing the prominence of gay people in Japan, this is less a piece of authentic queer cinema and more an example of captivated sub-cultural tourism. The transvestite body is treated as a fascinating object, shot in fragments during sex scenes, and its always a surprise to see the lead character out of make-up; the camera seems to revel in the illusion that Eddie’s face creates. The pleasured look on his face, the gripped sheets, clutched necks, scraped backs and intertwined fingers would look like the average hetero sex scene if they weren’t dressed up in the garb of queer cinema. Maybe that kind of passing is the whole point of the film, but rather than allowing the queens the indulgence of full immersion in their masquerade, the film thematises the wearing of masks as a universal human trait to hide our true selves. Many scenes draw comic effect from the incongruity of pretty girls who are also prey to the inconveniences of guy stuff:
In addition, Eddie’s traumatic past comes worryingly close to claiming a correlation between incestuous child abuse and homosexuality, but these are minor reservations for an otherwise electrifying, exploratory film that keeps turning up one flourish of visual wit after another.