Cult Corner: The Masks We Wear: Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

"All definitions of cinema have been erased."

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) was way ahead of its time utilizing creative filming techniques and non-standard storytelling. Directed by Toshio Matsumoto, it's a loose retelling of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex in which a poor soul kills his father and unknowingly marries his own mother. The setting of the story has been moved to the underground gay youth subculture in Japan in the tail end of the '60s.

The story revolves around a young androgynous man named Eddie (Shinnosuke Ikehata) a so-called "gay boy" who is heavily involved in the gay bar scene. Eddie has had a hard childhood and even harder adult life and much of the film is spent with him reminiscing about past situations and unresolved relationships in his past life. One of the underlying themes of the film is layers and masks and how people utilize them the portray themselves in a certain light and hide the negative aspects of themselves from others. Matsumoto highlights the inner feelings of the characters in an interesting way--he occasionally breaks the narrative of the film to ask the actors questions directly documentary style. The film breaks the fourth wall often in this way, even stopping sex scenes in the middle to pan out and show the director himself as well as his crew filming the actors.

Funeral Parade of Roses is part of the Japanese New Wave era, and is equal parts arthouse and experimental. I found this film to be easier to follow than some other films in the same genre as the actual construction of the story beats happen in chronological order (save for the flashbacks). The experimental aspects pertain more the aesthetic and editing choices with Matsumoto using all different types of style--many of them originating from graphic art or even comics. At times the film can feel like a surreal dream and it can shift without warning back to reality. Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece A Clockwork Orange (1971) borrows heavily from this film.

One of the more interesting aspects of this movie is the fact that it doesn't pass judgment on the gay characters or their lifestyle, it just depicts them in a naturalistic way, as real people with feelings and aspirations. Gender doesn't matter in this world, and everyone is just mixing together intimately, no second thoughts given. There is this palpable feeling of ecstasy and joy emanating from this film and each individual is teeming with strong feelings. I would even call it hedonistic in a way, which is one of the tenants of new wave film--the idea that the filmmakers are breaking from convention and doing whatever they want.

That concept is the perfect foundation for a film that explores a different way of experiencing sexual attraction and how one presents themselves to the society at large. One of the most important quotes in the film is "The spirit of an individual reaches its own absolute through incessant negation." which means that one can only discover their true self by constantly challenging their self-identity and personal ideology as well as reinventing themselves. This is true both for the film and for Eddie as well.

Cinelicious Pics has recently released the film on Blu-ray for the first time with a gorgeous 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative--that is definitely the best way to experience this film.