The dadaistic version of “Oedipus Rex”: “Funeral Parade of Roses” (1969)

This film will essentially throw you back to the age of hippy, fluxus and postwar art era, the late 60’s. Art and self-expression were a counterattack by disappointed society and the intelligentsia on the wasted age of WWII and its aftermath. “Funeral Parade of Roses” is that kind of time travel and somewhat a documentary of Tokyo’s gay counterculture. This gold piece of Japanese New Wave embodies the aesthetics and sexuality of postwar Japan in late 1960s.

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While being largely ignored in the West back in 70s and to this day, the time has proven “Funeral Parade of Roses” to be an important piece of cinema history. Casting non-professional actors, funding received from Art Theater Guild, clashing different genres in one, Toshio Matsumoto really made this film see daylight and be adored. While I have found some reviews written in West in 1970s, that were not pleased with the film, it is possible to logically explain why; a great part of the cinema at that time was little invested in the experiments and liberal expression of thought, so to some it seemed like a psychotic gibberish. However, at this time, with art moving towards liberation and freedom of expression, we can understand why “Funeral Parade of Roses” has secured a position within Japanese cinema history.

Toshio Matsumoto defined very important change in the way we perceive the reality through films. He claimed that the the documentaries are too conventional and possibly will never live through their time, because they are too focused on observing their subjects from the outside and not analyzing their inner world enough. He was confident that merging surrealism with documentary, a film maker will be able to tell not only the events that are visible to the eye, but the also the psyche. Using avant-garde elements, it is possible for a film maker to dig deeper into their protagonist mind and tell of it visually; as our mind is not always one logical sequence of thoughts, but we too can be frustrated, overwhelmed with joy or anger, depressed and paranoid, therefore, the experimental and unconventional visualization of it will make the viewer understand more of what is going on in the hearts of the protagonists.

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Eddie (played by Peter), the protagonist of the film, was a complex character; a popular drag queen in one of Shinjuku’s gay clubs, she plots against the main hostess Leda to become a hostess herself together with her lover Gonda, the owner of the club. Eddie is frail and suffers from constant flashbacks of her traumatic past – the murder of her mother and father not being present in her life at all, with even the pictures of his face burned out. In this film, the Oedipus’ father is the deceased mother, constantly appearing in Eddie’s visions, making her fall unconscious or have a mental breakdown. Eddie’s neurotic fits and her internal despair is depicted with the avant-garde elements, that Matsumoto emphasizes to be important in his writings on documentaries, giving the film unique touch and aesthetic direction to go by.

Horrible and tragic fate of Oedipus plays out when Leda kills herself in despair. She did not succeed in making Gonda turn to her and in the end, he still chose Eddie. She cursed the couple for making her pathetic and unhappy, and her curses combined with the grudge of deceased mother, which eventually led the sequence of events turn to Gonda learning the truth that his mesmerizing lover is actually his son. He kills himself, while Eddie stabs her eyes.

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The film does follow a plot line, however, it employs fragments of flashbacks, random scenes, comic relief, events and even characters, and, therefore, becomes a puzzle, somewhat a mosaic. Matsumoto includes “real-life” interviews from his cast and merges this “reality” with fiction into neo-documentary. No doubt Matsumoto put a lot of thought and effort, but he seemed to gamble a lot, since the movie seems experimental, maybe even frustrating for some. However, when you finish watching it, you get a satisfying feeling, that everything in the end makes sense and there is no need to question every random shot, which is why “Funeral Parade of Roses” seems like a remarkable masterpiece.

Amidst pivotal changes in Japan’s political climate, LGBT community was also to find their place within the history and define their sexuality through art, entertainment and activism. Toshio Matsumoto played his part in documenting some of the culture through the lens of avant-garde and fluxus while employing the story of Oedipus Rex. Neo-documentary (or neo-realism) might be a confusing concept for some, but it definitely gives a glimpse of 1960s mentality.

 

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