Funeral Parade of Roses Review

When discussing Funeral Parade of Roses it is perhaps best to begin with its various stylistic impulses. From its blissed out opening sequence to the bizarre final shots, this is a film in which every single image represents either complete beauty or a complete surprise – or both. It’s as though debuting director Toshio Matsumoto wants to have it all just in case he never makes another feature and so throws in enough ideas to sustain an entire oeuvre. Besides the visual flourishes, we also have Brechtian deconstruction, documentary interludes, chaotic seeming yet utterly controlled editing devices and a score which would more readily suit a paranoid science fiction flick from the same era. Furthermore, Funeral Parade of Roses also concerns itself with homosexuality, cross-dressing, Oedipal tensions, student revolutionaries and recreational drug use – a heady blend which places it firmly within a whole series of pantheons: gay cinema, experimental cinema, sixties cinema, transgressive cinema, the youth movie, the cult movie. In other words, it’s a key work.

At the centre of all of this is a truly striking performance by the formidable Peter, here playing Eddie, the narrative’s key focus and cross-dressing nightclub “hostess”. Indeed, it is Peter who wrestles the film away from Matsumoto and prevents it from becoming the oblique artefact from a bygone age it so often threatens to become. Certainly, Funeral Parade of Roses is by no means a film to turn to when seeking out a storyline – the trailer proclaims it as a “modern parody of Oedipus Rex” and there are hints of a nightclub melodrama/thriller à la Jean Negulesco’s neglected Road House, otherwise it’s more a collection of ideas and motifs. But our star focus undoubtedly counteracts (or at least balances) the various ploys Matsumoto has borrowed/stolen/adapted from both the nouvelle vague and US underground cinema made earlier in the decade (Jonas Mekas gaining an explicit onscreen nod). In between the intertitles and interludes there’s always the charismatic figure of Peter/Eddie to draw us in and smooth things out.

Yet Funeral Parade of Roses isn’t really a character study either. The manner in which Matsumoto short circuits both the fact-fiction divide and plain chronology prevents us from ever getting genuinely close to Eddie, even though he serves as our guiding light. Rather the film it more a study of its time, of its subcultures and its underground. In this respect the sheer melange of what appears and occurs onscreen makes perfect sense and, more importantly, works. The chaotic seeming blend and continual barrage of ideas and images builds to a multi-layered representation from which we are almost free to choose from what we will. Matsumoto never forces our hand or opts for the dogmatic approach, but instead gives everything its equal share. At times the sheer quantity of this mixture can get a little maddening, yet it does ultimately add to an extremely rich work. From its use of a real-life gay bar as one of its backdrops to its embrace of the avant-garde, Funeral Parade of Roses presents an enthusiasm for all that falls around it, one which we’d do well to match in its entirety.

The Disc

Funeral Parade of Roses arrives in the UK as number 31 in Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema series. An NTSC disc it comes with a mostly impressive presentation and a number of fine additions by way of the special features. If there’s one complaint then it’s that the image doesn’t quite possess perfect sharpness, but otherwise the print is in fine condition, demonstrating few signs of damage, and offering superb contrast levels. (The advertising for Funeral Parade of Roses notes that the print used for the transfer is the director’s own.) Likewise, the original Japanese soundtrack is in perfectly acceptable condition and never once presents anything which could be said to be distracting. Furthermore, the optional English subtitles are of a similarly high quality.

Of the extras, the key addition is the recently recorded interview with Matsumoto. Over 23 minutes he touches on all of the key areas of Funeral Parade of Roses’ production, allowing for a full context for its making and its themes. Its influences are discussed, as is the casting of Peter, its Oedipal references, his subsequent career and much more besides. All told it makes for a full experience with not a single second wasted. Moreover, there’s also a full-length commentary from Matsumoto (recorded in 2003) to flesh out many of this areas more fully. Certainly, many will find that the interview just a fine job on itself, although the additional chat track is more than welcome whilst its scene-specific nature allows us to pick out on a particular point or area all the more easily.

Elsewhere on the disc we’re also allowed access to the film’s distinctive promotional campaign courtesy of its original Japanese trailer (which contains specially filmed footage) and a poster gallery. Rounding off the package we also have a 40-page booklet which features a new essay by musician, producer and film maker Jim O'Rourke, and an extract from an article on independent Japanese cinema by Roland Domenig (a lecturer in Japanese Studies).

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