Flagrant is living for the just released, newly re-mastered, 4K restoration Blu-Ray of Funeral Parade of Roses. The 1969 Japanese cult classic about the “gay boy” underground counterculture scene of 1960’s Tokyo is a subversive, experimental, unapologetically queer masterpiece.
Directed by Japanese auteur Toshio Matsumoto, Funeral Parade of Roses is an examination of the Japanese “gay boy” culture in the 60s that included transgenders and cross-dressers. The film title’s “Roses,” in Japanese can be translated to the western “Pansy,” as both terms were used for feminine men at that time. These feminine “Roses” or “gay boys” as they we also called, made them more acceptable to masculine men who would go to the drag bars to hook-up.
At a popular Tokyo drag club, Bar Genet, Eddie (portrayed by the transgender actress Peter) is the young hostess (who is giving serving some serious Edie Sedgwick flair) at the bar. Eddie is having an affair with the club’s owner, Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Gonda is sleeping with the madame of the drag bar, Leda (Osamu Ogasawara). Leda is fiercely threatened by the younger Eddie and is not featuring her.
While the plot, which loosely borrows from Oedipus Rex and All About Eve, delivers the requisite drama, the film is much more than a conventional drama. Instead, the film does away with cinematic traditions and leaps into a winding, provocative and stunning opera of peripheral characters, verite interviews, film-within-film, and avant-garde footage.
Matsumoto is demanding that we rethink our rigid notions about “gay boys,” about gender, about sexuality, and ultimately about cinema itself. Using time-distorting, non-linear techniques, gorgeous black and white photography (Tatsuo Suzuki) and visual and musical experimentation, the director is using cinema to mirror the chaotic beauty of the culture we are experiencing.
This unapologetic celebration of the “gay boy” scene and its outcasts, and the joyfully transgressive filmmaking style, seem almost revolutionary when one considers that the film was released in a very conservative 1969 Japan. The American release was equally shocking in 1970. That Stanley Kubrick cited this film as inspirational to his own Clockwork Orange (1971) underscores the influence and impression left by Matsumoto’s masterpiece.
When the film does return to its plot, it does so with melodramatic zest, following Eddie into the rough streets to fight with a local girl gang, and being served some cutting realness by Leda, “She has bad manners, all she knows is coquetry.” The performances never veer into camp, as Matsumoto cast Eddie and Goda with acclaimed actors who would go on to work with Japanese master, Akira Kurosawa.
Even the love triangle that leads into a hyper-violent third act, is realized with an irreverent and masterful revolt of filmmaking conventions. The film itself, declares its deepest ambitions when a quote by American avant-garde pioneer Jonas Mekas is quoted, “All definitions of cinema have been erased. All the doors are now open.”