Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 film is a fusillade of haunted images and traumatised glimpses, splattered across a realist melodrama of the Tokyo underground club scene, played out in a fiercely beautiful monochrome. (It is reissued as part of the BFI’s Japan 2020 season which has now been forced to migrate to streaming until cinemas reopen.)
Eddie, played by the then-unknown performer Pîtâ, is a transgender bar hostess and rising star of a place named the Genet – Matsumoto leaves it up to us to ponder the associations. Eddie is having a passionate affair with the club’s owner, Gonda (played by Kurosawa regular Yoshio Tsuchiya), and has ignited the passionate rage and jealousy of Gonda’s other lover and employee, the transgender hostess, Leda (Osamu Ogasawara). As their love triangle proceeds to its operatic conclusion, Matsumoto gives us perspectives on the subliminal flashes of horror that flicker across the film’s retina. Eddie has had a tragic relationship with her parents, a quasi-Oedipal nightmare that involves violence to both.
Funeral Parade of Roses is a jagged shard of a film, an underground dream of longing and despair, an excursion away from narrative and a great example of the Japanese New Wave, which like the French New Wave offers you slogans, inter-titles, street-demos, film-within-a-film location scenes, newsreel-style interviews with the actors, evocative vérité streetscapes of Tokyo (quite the equal of the French directors’ depictions of Paris) with real passers-by cheekily roped into being stunned-looking extras without their permission. There is also the uncompromising thump of New Wave sound editing: music or background noise will cracklingly cut to silence on a change of scene.
“All definitions of cinema have been erased,” says an underground film-maker nicknamed Guevara in one scene, quoting Jonas Mekas, and getting told off for accidentally calling him Mekas Jonas. Definitions are certainly challenged here, although it also works within existing definitions. Matusmoto is probably riffing on Psycho with his shower scene and the language of Resnais and Godard. But what strikes me now is more the trace of Luis Buñuel. The surrealist images, triggered by traumatised events in Eddie’s life (his whole life is a string of traumatised events) are most disturbing at the beginning of the movie, when they are unexplained — especially the photo of man’s face in closeup with a cigarette butt burning through it. These moments of unmanageable flashback-anxiety are a cousin to those in Belle de Jour (1967) and the flourishes of horror are like Magritte’s painting Le Viol (1934) and of course Buñuel and Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou (1928).
It is very unnerving when Eddie and Gonda drive away from his flat one morning, and from the car they see Leda outside a convenience store, in her club costume, icily spying on them, like a ghost or a mirage. “Don’t look back,” Gonda tells Eddie, although looking forward would bring no comfort. Despite being more than 50 years old, this feels like a chilling message from the future.
• Funeral Parade of Roses is available on digital platforms from 18 May and is part of the BFI’s Japan 2020 season.
Source: The Guardian