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Examining Gender Identities with Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

August 2, 2016

Funeral_Parade_of_RosesThere are two things I didn’t know existed in Japan during the 1960s: A hippie counterculture and an open community of LGBT citizens. Homosexuality in Japan has always existed, but I was never exposed to how Japan viewed this part of society. My knowledge of Japanese culture derives almost exclusively from cinema. The films that I have watched over the years curtailed any representation of Japanese counterculture pre-1980s to miniscule images. This lack of insight has giving me a very formal, skewed vision of Japanese lifestyles. Thankfully, Funeral Parade of Roses came into my life via an open screening by Atlanta’s underground movie rental spot, Videodrome. Funeral Parade of Roses metaphorically knocked me on my ass. Not merely for its stunning, avant-garde images, but for its unwavering eye into the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in the gay community with an Oedipus Rex twist attached to a brimming social commentary on the period itself.

Funeral Parade of Roses came during the zeitgeist of the French New Wave and Japanese New Wave movements. Godard and Truffaut are often lauded as the forerunners and stable forces within the “new wave” genre of filmmaking that took place largely between the late 1950s-1970s. My own ignorant knowledge has long attributed “new wave” to the French as so much of the movement was gestated, popularized and romanticized by the French. But, their methods of deconstructing linear plots, cutting up narratives, breaking fourth walls and begging the audience to engage their critical mind while watching wasn’t just limited to France. Japan, Czechoslovakia, the U.S., India and Brazil are among the many that sought to revitalize and deconstruct the art of cinema all around the same time frame. Film school, unfortunately, left this part of history out. Although it’s disappointing to know that there are movements I’ve been completely unaware of, Funeral Parade of Roses has led me down an exciting rabbit hole of great Japanese cinema to get lost in.

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The social climate that Funeral Parade of Roses exposes is boldly astonishing for its time. Toshio Matsumoto forces a controversial lifestyle into the faces of viewers with strategic ease and brazenness. While America tiptoed around the topic of homosexuality in 1969 with Midnight Cowboy, Funeral Parade of Roses leaps into the topic with sensuality, rawness, and humor. We bounce around the city into the outings and interrelationships of a group of transsexual and gay individuals while the bitter rivalry between Eddy and Leda rage on in the film’s background. Leda is a Drag Queen in charge of a ritzy nightclub, but now worries about her place in her social group when a younger, more attractive Queen, Eddy, begins to draw Leda’s spotlight away from her. The battle between new and old rages through fashion and cat fights. Eddy’s youth grants her the trendiest outfits and accessories while Leda’s traditional kimono laden style of dress implicates her age as the warring battle of past versus present takes place.

 

Matsumoto does absolute wonders in this film through stunning visuals. Funeral Parade of Roses‘ radical film style completely sucks you in to the eye of the storm then pushes you out into a magnificent world of diversity and bold color despite living within a realm of black and white. Shot without color on 35mm, Funeral Parade of Roses jumps out in audacious tones and schemes. The lighting is a completely adulated physical aspect of the film that highlights all the right angles, expressions and nuances of these characters and their world. Matsumoto doesn’t want you to forget that this a film though. In one particular scene Eddy has sex with a gentlemen she meets at the bar. The low-key lighting of the scene shines from below her face that is framed intimately tight in a close-up as she moans. The scene lingers here putting viewers smack into the middle of this deeply intimate moment behind closed doors before a “cut” is heard. The scene then widens out to show the cast and crew and how the camera managed to make Eddy look so flawless and silver.

These moments of breaking the fourth wall with audiences repeat frequently throughout the film in ingenious bursts. We are shown interviews with cast members in their on-set wardrobe as they candidly discuss the notion of their sexuality. One must remember this was filmed in 1969 so the language seems harsh during Matsumoto’s questioning, but this marks the first time to my knowledge, that homosexuality had ever been addressed in Japan, with such gallant openness. Regardless, the interviews are warm and enlightening expressing the confusion of sexuality, the reality of a sexual spectrum and the honesty of both the joy and sorrow that comes with being non-cisgendered individual.

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Funeral Parade of Roses does a lot in its hour and 47 minutes that should get viewed firsthand to fully enjoy. It’s a film that mixes hippie avant-grade experimentation with a social essay that holds a mirror up to society and begs it to study itself. My love of Jean-Luc Godard and the entire French New Wave movement only speaks to my biased love for what Funeral Parade of Roses does as a piece of art. It breaks apart preconceived notions of film to give visibility to members of society who don’t usually have a voice. All the while it completely draws you into its dramatic story while being able to shock and amaze all at once. It’s a shame more films didn’t follow suit… If they did, please suggest more to me!

SEE IT. And revel in amazement at this highly relevant, impressive gem.

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