funeral parade of roses
funeral parade of roses

The Massively Influential Film ‘Funeral Parade of Roses’ Takes a Look at the ’60s Tokyo Drag Scene

In sad news for film buffs, the Japanese director and video artist Toshio Matsumoto died April 12 in Tokyo. He was 85, and passed away due to an intestinal obstruction. He made a number of short films, but only four features. But one of those features, Funeral Parade of Roses, went on to influence Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange among others — all while re-inventing cinema at the same time.

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Funeral Parade of Roses is a retelling of the classic Oedipus Rex story about a Greek king who sleeps with his mother and kills his father. What makes it interesting, however, is Matsumoto’s decision to set the story in the Tokyo drag scene — and intercut the narrative with documentary segments about both the drag scene and the making of Funeral Parade of Roses itself.

funeral parade of roses poster
The original Japanese poster

The film stars the Japanese drag star Peter as Eddie, one of the scene’s most popular drag queens. We follow him and his friends as they go through life — though Eddie’s haunted by his childhood, and a mysterious picture of his father with the face burned out. If you know the original myth, you can more or less guess the rest of the story — but the film is as much a snapshot of late ’60s queer Tokyo as it is a story.

Matsumoto’s work is known by its visual experimentation and Funeral Parade of Roses is no exception. Beyond blurring the lines between fiction and documentary, Matsumoto also includes collage, different methods of processing the film — and in one of our favorite scenes, the art of fumetti, or comics made with photos.

Fans of gay manga might also notice a pun in the original Japanese title, Bara no soretsu. While bara means “rose” in English, it’s also the term used for gay men — sort of like “pansy” in English; like “pansy,” many gay men see “bara” as a slur. But in the ’60s and ’70s, Japanese gay culture worked to reclaim the word — even if by the ’90s, the term was seen as outdated.

If you can’t wait to get a taste of what this film is like, however, Ubuweb has posted all of Matsumoto’s short films, including For My Crushed Right EyeFor My Crushed Right Eye is a short film later incorporated into Funeral Parade of Roses — though the original was meant to be run on three projectors running at the same time with drifting synchronization.

Funeral Parade of Roses is sadly hard to find in the United States. However, Masters of Cinema released an outstanding DVD of it in the United Kingdom with a subtitled commentary track by the director. Likewise, the film is available in Japan as part of a Toshio Matsumoto boxset collecting all his features, Demons (Shura), War at the Age of Sixteen (Juuroku-sai no Sensou) and Dogura Magura. In the Japanese set, all but War include English-language subtitles.

Thankfully, there’s a campaign to get the Criterion Collection to release the film — so if you want to see Funeral Parade of Roses in the United States legally without relying on expensive imports, shoot Criterion an email requesting it. Seriously — Funeral Parade of Roses deserves to be seen, and an important film like this deserves to be in the Criterion Collection.

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