Stills from Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列 / Bara no Soretsu),...

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Stills from Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列 / Bara no Soretsu), 1969
directed by Toshio Matsumoto (松本 俊夫)

Funeral Parade of Roses is a marvelous spectacle, a cinematic revolution and the first Japanese film to deal directly with gay subject matter. On its surface, it tells the story of Eddie (played by the legendary gender-bending performer Peter), a fabulous drag queen locked in a bitter rivalry with Leda, the older matron of “Bar Genet” in Shinjuku. But there’s so much more going on in Funeral Parade of Roses: a barrage of sight and sounds pushing the limits of cinema, mashing up documentary interviews with images of pure fantasy, homage to “pink film,” slapstick fight scenes, performance art by the political group Zero Jigen (Zero Dimension), Oedipal overtones, wild dancing, weed and a Che Guevara beard. All of these “splinters of a broken mirror,” as visionary director Toshio Matsumoto described the dazzling fragments of his film, reflect the passions of underground culture in late ‘60s Tokyo.  

Shinjuku was a melting pot for Japanese outsiders, a place where artists, queers, hippies and revolutionaries co-existed out of necessity. Funeral Parade of Roses pictures the gay community as the proud powdered face of the whole scene. Eddie and her fellow queens saunter through the city with a flippant disregard for the broader culture that marginalizes them, taking their space at the men’s room urinal and empowering themselves with every trip to the salon for an extravagant multi-layered hairdo. Such unabashed celebration of gay life is unique for a film of its era, and even today it still feels fresh and exciting. Thomas Lampion from the blog Cinema Homosexualis sums it up nicely:

One cannot help but be reminded of stock footage so frequently used in such films as the documentary Before Stonewall or Gus Van Sant’s Milk of Gay Bar Police Raids in the NYC of 1950′s and 60′s, where men and women cower, covering their faces with hands and newspapers as they huddle into police vans. Here, though we are peering through an underground gay world as a voyeuristic audience, the Drag Queens of Funeral Parade of Roses do not hide or flinch when interrogated and captured in the cameras eye. They are exposed in bright light, standing or sitting proudly, answering each question with stoic conviction of someone who understands something about themselves. One Queen in particular after having asked if she has any dreams replies ‘I am what I am’, and asked if he is happy being a queen, she answers ‘I’m content.’

For futher reading, check out Timeline for a Timeless Story,” an essay by Jim O'Rourke which explores director Toshio Matsumoto’s background, as well as the cinematic conventions and social movements Matsumoto was reacting to in Funeral Parade of Roses.