Off the Radar: ‘Funeral Parade of Roses,’ a surreal peek into the psyche of a Japanese subversive

Off the Radar is a weekly column surveying overlooked films available to students for free via NYU’s streaming partnerships. “Funeral Parade of Roses” is available to stream on Kanopy.

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Aaliya Luthra

The 1970 film “Funeral Parade of Roses” portray’s Japan’s queer community. The film is available for free via NYU’s streaming partnerships. (Staff Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Amira Aboudallah, Contributing Writer

A woozy, nonlinear combination of experimental and documentary-style filmmaking, Toshio Matsumoto’s “Funeral Parade of Roses” (1969) is an exploration of the underground queer community in Japan. But that’s not all — it’s also a loose adaptation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex,” imbuing the film with the narrative beats of a classical tragedy. Again, that’s not all. Moments of comedy and horror are woven in, making each scene more unpredictable than the last. 

Queerness in the 1960s was defined far more loosely than the labels used in the modern day. The film uses language like “gay boy” as an umbrella term to refer to gender nonconforming people, despite their subjective identities greatly differing from one another. Although the identity labels are unclear in this film, most of the queer characters in “Funeral Parade of Roses” align with more traditionally feminine modes of gender presentation. 

The film centers on the plight of Eddie (Pîtâ), characterized by her heavy, dark eyelashes and trendy PVC wardrobe. Her youth is contrasted with that of Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), the girlfriend of the gay club owner Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Adorned in traditional Japanese garb, Leda scorns Eddie and Gorna’s affair, threatened by the possibility of Eddie’s ascension to the madame of the club. 

As the film gains momentum, Eddie’s psyche is more viscerally represented. Flashes of a picture of Eddie’s family with a searing hole eating away at her father’s face and a woman with blood gushing from her abdomen seize the screen, signaling Eddie’s melodramatic downfall and general distress. 

The film guides the viewer through this sense of delirium as erotic moments are spliced between moving bodies against a haze of white sheets. We see interviewees  asked about their decision to “become a gay boy,” peeking into the queer consciousness of 1960s Japan where many matter-of-factly claim to “become” one because they simply like it. Time passes in peculiar ways, sustained in moments such as when Eddie dances in a drug-induced daze, or cutting ahead when Eddie is triggered, and her interactions with others are edited into jagged, disoriented sequences where characters pop in and out. Moments of tension are relieved by comedic elements such as Eddie and Leda’s frenzy of bickering, in which they point prop guns at one another and hurl one-worded insults, ending in a “Popeye”-esque cartoonish sped-up fight.

Like its subjects, “Funeral Parade of Roses” refuses to be strictly defined. It demands the viewer’s full attention, with each sequence intentionally differing from one another, immersing the viewer into Eddie’s prophesied downfall.  We see Eddie at a social high — being the most popular hostess to male clientele at the club — but her traumas fuel a rapid descent. We catch glimpses of a young Eddie, laughed at by her mother after she promised to take care of Eddie when her father abandoned the family.  

Throughout “Funeral Parade of Roses,” we see Eddie’s mask slowly peeling off as she gives in to her past. When she visits an art exhibition, a tape recorder plays: “Each man has his own mask. Some will wear the same mask for their entire life. Some will wear several masks based on their needs.” The physical mask shown isn’t restricted only to Eddie, but also extends to her peers, who put on fake personas of their own. Eddie’s mask detaching is a disturbing final image, forcing the audience to reckon with a character who has diluted themselves into a mere spectacle.

“Funeral Parade of Roses” is a very challenging narrative, yet its strong emotional epochs always anchor the viewer. Though the film may initially appear to be just a jumble of shots, the lurid ending affirms this film as an affective landmark of queer Japanese cinema.

Contact Amira Aboudallah at [email protected]