FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) ***
An all-night Italian TV program entitled "Fuori Orario" - which translates to "After Hours" - comprised of back-to-back films of all genres, nationalities and vintage, and hosted by an eccentric highbrow critic named Enrico Ghezzi - has for years been the fount of several interesting titles which, if it hadn't been for him, I would never have heard of, let alone watched (though I'd say that about a third of the alarming 500+ still-unwatched films I own on VHS are culled from that program!).
Anyway, FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES is one such example: when I learned it was scheduled to be shown, I made a cursory search via the Internet about the film and, from the little I found, I singled it out as one to record. However, I didn't watch it immediately (mainly because, unfortunately, the tape I used for the recording was some 20 years old and still has a habit of halting playback automatically and subsequently refusing to load!; in fact, a couple of weeks back I lost two early Shohei Imamura films I unwisely taped on a similarly fragile VHS) but, since that time, I've come across a few more references to Matsumoto's film - most recently its being announced as a forthcoming Region 2 DVD release from the impressive "Masters Of Cinema" label - which have only intrigued me even more. Then, yesterday, as I was listening to Tony Rayns' Audio Commentary for Hiroshi Teshigahara's unusual debut PITFALL (1962) - incidentally a Eureka/MoC edition - he mentioned the film once again (and, perhaps unwittingly, proceeded to give away the devastating plot twist at the film's conclusion!) in the context of its similarly unconventional nature. So, this time, I decided not only to watch FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES at long last - whatever the condition of the tape which, fortuitously, turned out to be not too bad - but, being in something of an art-house/Asian cinema vein, I made a whole list of (mostly just as obscure) titles to follow...
Now, after this long-winded introduction, let's get down to the business at hand: a potentially off-putting subject matter (the trials and tribulations of a community of transvestites) is transformed by the writer-director's aggressively experimental style, drawing on the contemporary free-form technique of European films rather than the cinematic conventions which are traditionally Japanese. In fact, the narrative (if it can even be called that, in view of its many flashbacks, flash-forwards and repeated actions) is frequently interrupted by having the cast sit down for interviews being filmed by a TV crew; interestingly, Ingmar Bergman's contemporaneous THE PASSION OF ANNA (1969) used a similarly unique device to "explain" his characters' motivations, as it were. Despite its generally serious tone, seemingly a requisite for an art-house film, FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES is not devoid of humor or, at the very least, a distinct sense of the absurd: the catfight scenes between the "women" are shot in accelerated motion - a technique allegedly borrowed from this film by Stanley Kubrick for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)!; the scene of a trio of transvestites taking a leak in a men's lavatory (much to the consternation of those present); the linking image of a line-up of naked men with one of them having a rose firmly planted between his butt-cheeks; a revolutionary hippie named Guebara having a sneezing fit in extreme close-up; and the moment during one of the pauses for interviews when a crew member slinks past the camera filming the actor playing the man pretending to be a woman (are you confused yet?) holding a dead rat by the tail! With regards to Peter, the lead actor (who, amazingly, later turned up as The Fool in RAN , Kurosawa's masterful adaptation of Shakespeare's "King Lear"), I have to say that he makes for a very convincing female impersonator - to the point where, if it weren't for his clearly masculine voice, one forgets that he's actually watching a man in drag! The love scenes (which, thankfully, aren't very explicit) are sensitively handled and, in general, the film doesn't sentimentalize the gay community - nor does it criticize the drug scene which seems to be as much a part of their lifestyle as anything else. As I said earlier, I knew of the film's reversal of Greek tragedy at the climax from Tony Rayns' commentary for PITFALL but, given its complex structure, I was still blown away by the revelation which, in turn, leads to an extremely violent ending that is not easily forgotten. By the way, I found the brownish hue of the black-and-white cinematography to be an interesting touch: I don't know if this was done intentionally, or whether it was just a feature of the print I happened to watch - but, at this juncture, I think I'd be somewhat disappointed if this unique "dirty" look were missing from the film once the upcoming DVD is released (perhaps anyone who might own the Japanese disc could chime in about this?)...
FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES was, by all accounts, an remarkable debut feature for Toshio Matsumoto; he followed it with only 3 more films but, from the little I've read about them, they sound interesting too and well worth seeking out (so far they have only been available as part of a Japanese Limited Edition Box Set, though not all the films feature English subtitles!).
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