Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

 “All definitions of cinema have been erased.”
‘Funeral Parade of Roses’, directed by Toshio Matsumoto in 1969, is a New Wave Japanese movie that charts the lives of homosexuals and transvestites in Tokyo as they re-enact the story of Oedipus. It’s a difficult film to like, not because of the subject matter, but because of the way the subject matter is presented. It was apparently the film that inspired Stanley Kubrick to adapt ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and it certainly shares Kubrick’s ironic and deeply unsettling approach. Matsumoto blends documentary footage, interviews with the cast, melodramatic moments of visceral violence and art-house techniques to undercut expectations and to drive the narrative forward. Watching it is a strange experience, the different styles both jar but also weirdly complement each other and build a consistent story. At times, the film seems to deliberately break the spell of the story, for example as a sex scene reaches its climax Matsumoto cuts to a second camera filming the filming of the action and then interviews the lead actor. At times it feels like a safari, the film focuses not on the psychology of the Japanese gay subculture but on the surface appearance of it, on flesh and make-up, and on an attempt to reproduce the effects of drugs. Overall, watching it is a mesmerising but exhausting experience, the film is tied together by an outstanding central performance and by the sheer balls of the director to tackle for the time such a sensitive subject matter in such an experimental way.

Would I recommend it? Tricky question. If your goal in watching movies is to see a Japanese transvestite shockingly blinding herself with a knife then this is the movie for you! I guess compared with the other Japanese movies I’ve seen by Ozu, Kurosawa and, albeit French/Japanese, Renais, this is like a different medium, so it’s worth watching for the experience and the ride.

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