“ Actors: Pîtâ, Osamu Ogasawara, Toyosaburo Uchiyama, Don Madrid, Emiko Azuma / Director: Toshio Matsumoto / Writer: Toshio Matsumoto / Producers: Keiko Machida, Mitsuru Kudo, Sumiko Fujisawa / Language: Japanese / Subtitles: English / Classification: 18 / Studio: Eureka / DVD Release Date: 21 Aug 2006 / Run Time: 105 minutes „
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"I am the wound and the blade, both the torturer and he who is flayed."
Eddie is living as a woman in 1960s Tokyo; but it's just as apt to say that 1960s Tokyo is living in Eddie. Eddie is a beautiful man, and an even more beautiful woman. Stunning - soft, diaphanous, sensual - and impossible to imagine her character played by anyone but actor Pita, who undertook this first film role when he was only in his late-teens, and her high heels and glazed fingernails.
The first shot we see of Eddie is a sex scene with a man, in purple-tinted black and white film, lines diverging and meeting as parts of the body - lips, eyes - become apparent. This is the first taste of impressionism within the film, but as easy as it is to say it's exploitative to put a sex scene as the first in a movie, it becomes a key scene - if not the key scene - later on.
For A Funeral Parade of Roses this is how it divulges information to the audience, disseminated and dissolving: introducing seemingly scrambled or meaningless scenes, scraps of naturalistic dialogue, flashbacks, repeating scenes from different angles, interviews spliced in with the cast or random trans people on the street - but as random or pretentious as this at first seems, the delicate construction involved to produce a non-linear, but extremely satisfying story, is astounding in 20/20 hindsight.
The plot is lifted from pre-Homeric Oedipus Rex, which to those familiar with the source material will rid the movie of any surprises... but the reinterpretation is more than worth watching nonetheless.
Eddie is a twenty-something transvestite, involved with a man, Gonda, who is also involved with Leda, a mama-san (think a cross between proprietress and madam) in a transvestite hostess bar where Eddie works. Their circle of friends include a film-maker Guevara (where much of the metaphysical iterations of interviews fit in - through his television), and various other men and women, who seem to spend their time high and laughing, in orgy of hedonism (often literally) to the shaky political background of Japan in the late sixties.
Eddie and Leda have an unspoken tension in their every interaction - Leda a fading beauty, Eddie a rising star, both of them in love and sleeping with the same man, drug-runner and club-owner Gonda, who is using the club Leda manages to smuggle drugs and launder money.
Despite how serious that paragraph may sound, much of the movie is far from morose, often veering into the surreal or absurd - at one point Eddie et gang get into a fight with a bunch of gangster girls, the cat-fight protracted and laid-over with a '60s Japanese version of the Benny Hill theme-tune, with wigs, shoes, even bras flying around with the fake nails clawing.
Still, Eddie is portrayed as an enigma. Far from a happy-go-lucky tranny working the bars and hitting the shops, Eddie is darkly Freudian, and suffers from paralysing flashbacks. Mother. A stabbing. A man. Beatings. A family photograph with the face of the father burnt out, smoldering. These images are recurring throughout - at first startling, and then they seep into the mundane landscape this movie dances its characters against, only to come back again, suddenly, with the reality of truth behind it like a punch.
The interview parts of the movie are bizarre and at first incongruous - scenes will drift, actors will break character as an interviewer asks questions about their lifestyle. Do you consider yourself homosexual? Do you want to get married? Are you happy in your life decisions? - As you will ask yourself: is this a part of the film? Is X character an actor/actress? But it soon sinks in, and these backstage parts add a lot to characters who perhaps don't get their 15 minutes in the film. Boldly, few of the actors here were professionals - some were counter-culture icons (such as Pita, who was scouted from a host bar he was working at) and many were outright amateurs. However, all of them play their characters faultlessly. Case in point: Leda.
Leda within the strictest sense of the film, is a rather papery character - clingy, jaded, she urges her boyfriend to leave Eddie, just this once, for good, taking any opportunity to jeopardise Eddie. However, Leda's actor is one of the most soft-spoken, gentle people I have seen interviewed - he IS Leda, at the same time that he definitely ISN'T. This aspect of A Funeral Parade of Roses is difficult to convey using words - it's the juxtaposition of mood, like light and dark, that creates a sense of humanity to a character that in a lesser production could easily be a simple trope, a plot device, a throwaway character on the periphery of the action, the shadow in the limelight.
However, the film does not stop at mere interviews. In one sex scene with Eddie and Gonda, the scene suddenly pans out to reveal close-up camerawork of Pita (the actor playing Eddie) kissing his own forearm or grasping the sheet dramatically - and then the director shouts "cut!" and we are thrown back into the movie, watching a scene on Guevara's ageing (even by '60s standards) television while the rest of his friends groan and complain, tell him to get his stupid film working or they're going to break out the marijuana already. It evades words, but it works.
I won't spoil the twist nor the ending to the film, but it is a tragic, sudden stab in the dark of an ending. I would urge anyone interested NOT under any circumstances read spoilers about the film, nor even the myth of Oedipus if they were not already familiar - the shock of the ending is one of the most perfect pieces of cinema I have had the good fortunate to experience, and renders an enjoyable film into an unforgettable one.
No review of this film would be complete without at least briefly touching on the experimental techniques Matsumoto employed in the filming of Bara no Soretsu. Scenes are sped up or slowed down, images are frozen, entire scenes are solarised or distorted. As easy as it seems to scoff at what would be a mere mouse-click away in Photoshop today, I do believe these effects add something imperceptible to the atmosphere of the film - rather like a horror film, you come to expect the unexpected without a clue what form it will take, whether it will shock or enlighten - and that tension is what is necessary to carry such a fever-dream plot, even underpinned as it is in mythology.
As easy as it is to paint this film as everything an art film is - pretentious, self-aware, gimmicky, literature-quoting, try-hard - to me, on an emotional level and a story-telling one, it transcends from simply being an art film to being an epic. Every human emotion can be found here: rage, loathing, laughter, fear, shame, love. Underground films stay underground because audiences are alienated by things they neither know nor understand, but A Funeral Parade of Roses is so deeply empathetic and, dare I say it, relatable, it is just a crime not more people have had the privilege to experience it themselves. A universal theme in the movie is masks - masks we all wear, make-up, expression, clothes - but deeper than that - the face we even try to fool ourselves into believing is the real self. Never was this sentiment so poignant than in a movie about young people defying their gender, defying sedition, defying each other, and trying to defy fate.
A Funeral Parade of Roses has been remastered in the prestigious Masters of Cinema DVD series, available on Amazon with English subtitles for the shockingly reasonable price of £7.99.