J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses

Evidently men will be cheating dogs, even when their tastes run towards transvestite prostitutes in prim and proper 1960s Japan. As a case in point, Gonda, the Yakuza manager of the Club Jenet is carrying on affairs with both the Madam, Leda and their star attraction, Eddie. This inevitably leads to trouble in the Toshio Matsumoto’s aesthetically raucous, thematically transgressive, freshly 4K restored 1969 underground film, Funeral Parade of Roses (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Taboos will be shattered and fourth walls will be broken. Eddie and his fellow “gay-boys” as they refer to themselves in the translated subtitles live pretty unapologetic, hedonistic lives. He will even admit as much when he occasionally drops his screen persona for pseudo-documentary interview segments. In the ostensive narrative, they are more defiant than proud, taking perverse pleasure in flaunting their deviations from the staid norm.

However, we can tell from the fragmentary flashbacks, Eddie has both daddy and mommy issues. The former absconded before he really had a chance to know him, whereas he killed the latter. Apparently, he got away with it. Yet, the threat of violence always looms over his head, especially with respect to his rivalry with Leda.

While issues of sexuality are clearly front-and-center throughout Parade, it can also be appreciated as a ribald exercise in avant-garde filmmaking. To put things in perspective, a character literally quotes Jonas Mekas. Yet, the tone often suggests late 1960s Godard and the sense of humor is not so far removed from the Zuckers. Matsumoto plays with cartoon-style dialogue balloons, talking heads interrupting the moments of high drama to offer their commentary, and wild, drug-fueled parties that would not be out of place in 1970s AIP hippy exploitation movies, all of which are incorporated in the wildest kitchen sink riff on Oedipus Rex probably ever attempted.

If you can keep up with the tonal shifts and go-for-broke gamesmanship, Peter (or Pîtâ) as he is simply billed, is eerily compelling as the damaged and reckless Eddie. His characters flaws are tragically manifest, but Peter is an eye magnet, who you simply cannot turn away from. Something like a Japanese Ru Paul, Peter would have a long career a performer on variety shows and a fair number of films, even portraying the fool in Kurosawa’s Ran. Kurosawa regular Yoshio Tsuchiya (Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, etc.) is also vividly sleazy and unflaggingly suggestive of danger as the predatory Gonda.

There are a host of possible reasons why Parade will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you have to admire the way Matsumoto holds together the narrative structure while maintaining its anarchic spirit. Reportedly, Kubrick readily credited it as an influence on A Clockwork Orange, which makes sense. In all honesty, it seems strange it is not more of a notorious cult item. Anyone who digs the style of Godard and the humor of John Waters owes it to themselves to check it out. Recommended for such cineastes, Funeral Parade of Roses opens tomorrow (6/9) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.

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