Apparently acknowledged by Stanley Kubrick as an influence on A Clockwork Orange, Toshio Matsumoto (1932-2017)’s Japanese cult film, Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), is released theatrically in a brand new 4K restoration.
Shot in glorious black and White, Funeral Parade of Roses follows the adventures of Eddie, a popular transgender figure active at nightclub Genet, in the infamous Shinjuku district. Eddie befriend a group of young revolutionaries, artists and filmmakers during a period of social unrest.
A personal rendering of the Oedipus myth (one sequence features the Japanese poster to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex), Funeral Parade of Roses has much to do with avant-garde and contemporary art in portraying the subculture of 1969 Tokyo, especially Shinjuku. It uses constant fractured narrative (Matsumoto was already a pioneer with his experimental shorts, multimedia work and videos) featuring extensive use of handheld cameras and abrupt change of tone (scenes interrupted by interviews, breaking of the fourth wall, improvisational moments, etc ) thus being firmly remote from the usual story-wise plot and leaving the audience with a lot of unanswered questions while using, as its background, the student’s violent uprisings of the period to orchestrate a piece of non-linear urban filmmaking .
In planning to shoot the odd ball object Funeral Parade of Roses is, the choice of the Shinjuku district, as a main theater for action, beside the fact it was already heavily featured in Yakuza crime films, was significant as it was already, at the time, a major stage for performance artists, visual arts ( Matsumoto’s own experimental short For My Crushed Right Eye is partly featured ) and the club scene as well as the host to various street protests that took place throughout the late 1960s. Since official permission to film was out of the question, Matsumoto, having to cope with prohibitive police presence, would often rely on single takes. The overall, on location, results give the impression of street level urgency. On the other hand, the interiors, feature Eddie’s friends engaging in wild sex parties while making films by directly shooting their television set to get a coverage of what is happening outside their window, ultimately making them passive observer. It is there that Matsumoto fictional account draws some of its strongest satirical power. Such are the ingredients, added to the urgency and obvious budget limitation, partially dictating the stylistic form, that made Shinjuku, during and after that tumultuous period, a pivotal location for directors sharing similar themes, with Matsumoto’s film, notably Shûji Terayama with Throw Away Your Books and Rally in the Streets (1971) and the celebrated Nagisa Oshima with Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969), the less experimental and more linear of the three films.
It is interesting to note that Funeral‘s main protagonist, Eddie, is performing at the Genet nightclub. Matsumoto borrows from Queer classic Un Chant d’amour (1950), the sole foray into filmmaking by provocative French writer Jean Genet, and pays tribute to the Author of Querelle the Brest (upon which R. W. Fassbinder’s Querelle is based), as Oshima does in Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (the thief steels a copy of Genet’s The Thief’s Journal at the beginning).
Part of the new wave of filmmaking from the 1960’s, subversive, repetitive, experimental, chaotic, and messy at times (the director would be more disciplined in 1971 with his next full length effort, the engaging samurai drama Shura/ Demons), Funeral Parade of Roses certainly goes over the line even by the standards of its era, as far as the sex, drug, violence and Queer scene are concern. It could find its way into the world because the studios of the time would look for a mix of youth-culture and pornography (even horror films) that would allow these films to exist. And to be restored.
*** For Montrealers, Funeral Parade of Roses is opening this Friday, June 16 at Cinémathèque Québécoise for a one week special engagement.