FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES (Japan, 1969, Bara No Soretsu)
Region 2 PAL DVD (Eureka)
If you go down to Shinjuku tonight...
I like to watch films knowing what year they were made, but I started in on this film in ignorance and really couldn’t work it out!
It’s in black and white, but the opening scene looked so modern, I almost thought it was made in the eighties. Two white figures making love blend into the white background. A beautifully filmed scene that confuses what’s exactly going on, which parts of the body we are looking at, and disguises the fact that we are actually watching two men.
Afterwards, I found out that this was made in 1969 in what could easily have been a Japanese Andy Warhol movie - except that the acting is better, the story is better, and the production was more professional and much more inventive than many of Warhol's contemporary feature films (I'm thinking of Flesh, Trash, and Heat). Like a Warhol film, there’s sleaze and drugs and transvestites and gay sex, but in Funeral Parade the drama isn’t OTT camp it’s played straight, the sleaze and drugs and nightclubs feel realistic too, rather than a bad, bad taste soap opera. The gay sex is unflinching and quite explicit for the time. The experimental side of the production is inventive but never tricksy and casually flips us in and out of the film. At one point the lead actor is interviewed about how he sees his role in the film. It’s like mixing the dvd extras into the film itself.
Real-life characters play themselves, together with the lead, Peter, playing a character like himself, alongside professional actors. Peter, a bona fide drag queen, plays Eddie (yes, that's him on the DVD cover), who's trying to become the number one Madame in the Genet nightclub (a fictional name for a real location). He's having an affair with the club's owner, played by Yoshio Tsuchiya, who looks younger than ever! I’ve seen him in a dozen movies, mostly made before this one - the flattering lighting that makes the queens look more convincing works wonders on him too! He looked older and more crumpled playing grumpy villains in classics like Matango - Fungus of Terror.
The film verges on semi-documentary, giving us a valuable insight into the sixties gay scene in Tokyo, not to mention experimental film-making, drug culture, fashion... for all of this, it's an astonishing film. Some of the narrative flits around in time, the effortless flashbacks and flash forwards are clever, but easy to follow, but may have disorientated viewers in 1969! I'd love to see a similar snapshot of the lesser-seen side of Tokyo now - I certainly haven't seen the modern gay scene as well documented anywhere recently.
The positive representations of drag queens and gay lifestyles are rather undermined by the tragic and violent edge provided by the film's Shakespearean plot, which still packs a dramatic and visceral punch today. Together with the non-linear narrative and the horror movie climax, this ranks as a classic across several genres.
It was exciting enough at the time to become one of Stanley Kubrick's favourite films, even influencing the filming techniques he used in A Clockwork Orange - a very high commendation indeed, to be ripped off by Stan the Man!
This DVD is the first home video release of this film outside Japan. I'm astonished that I'd not heard of it before, when I was trawling through Warhol, Derek Jarman and John Waters' back catalogues back in the eighties.
Made around the same time as Performance, which it's worth comparing to, Funeral Parade of Roses should rank as one of the most interesting films of the sixties. Where has it been hiding?
At least the DVD extras pay service to the director, Toshio Matsumoto, who's well-represented in a recent long interview and an interesting (subtitled) commentary track. There's also a poster gallery and a cheeky contemporary trailer. Super!