Film Review: Funeral Parade of Roses

At once over-the-top camp and an invaluable artifact of a vanished gay age, this startling Japanese slice of lavender life has been unearthed for your delectation in time for this year’s Pride celebrations.
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A film maudit if e’er there was, Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses is a true rarity, a defiantly out and proud gay film from Japan, made in 1969, the very year the Stonewall uprising occurred in New York City to usher in a new world where the love that dare not speak its name could actually afford the eventual luxury of never shutting the hell up. The film centers around a Tokyo gar bar, in which an intense and bloody love triangle is being enacted by drag performers Eddie (Pîtâ, the Japanese trans cult actor, who was also in Kurosawa’sRan) and the jealously competitive veteran Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), both vying for the affection of Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya) who manages the joint while dealing drugs on the side.

The cast-off Leda pushes Gonda to fire Eddie, threatening to drop a dime on him to the police. Miserable Leda eventually kills herself, which finally allows Gonda and Eddie to make literal sweet gay love to each other whenever they feel like it. But their newfound joy is short-lived, because when Gonda discovers that he is somehow actually Eddie’s father, he takes a knife and commits suicide. This same knife is sadly taken up by Eddie, who—shades of Orpheus—puts his eyes out with it.

Although its synopsis reads like the heaviest weather, the film—although at times shockingly graphic—is anything but. Masumoto suffuses it with a surfeit of campy humor, flashy performances, Freudian implications (Eddie has definite mommy issues), orgiastic drug-fueled party sequences, and arcane yet resonant cultural observation—the promiscuous use of pronouns in the dialogue may have some straight heads spinning—to make it all deeply diverting. The film is also wholly of its triumphantly counterculture era, as the director piles on a battery of strobe lights and other hallucinogenic visual/sound effects and sudden, startling images from the characters’ varying subconsciousness. In ’69, there was never a zeitgeist, and the film, in its determined, fecund outrageousness, evokes the Andy Warhol-Paul Morrissey efforts being shot at the same time, but much more skillfully done and less boring. Even more than that, it calls up the early, super-gay output of Pedro Almodóvar, before he got so internationally recognized and serious.

Although none of the characters as conceived is very deep, the film is perfectly cast, right down to the most peripheral bedizened slut-boy. When we first see Eddie, she is startlingly rolling around naked in bed with her man, and Pîtâ brings the same kind of unbridled joie de vivre to this pretty, pouty and wild miss’ every scene. Matsumoto films a hilarious, giggly, high-as-a-kite shopping mall spree with her and two girlfriends, all scarfing ice cream cones, which ends with a rear shot of them standing at public urinals among unfazed, seen-it-all Tokyo residents. Tsuchiya is a properly gruff and grunting macho daddy, while Ogasawara, although a lot prettier, is a nasty, slatternly piece of work fit to stand alongside the dreaded Rosalind Ivan in Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street.

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