As with last year’s restoration of John Waters’ fantastic second film Multiple Maniacs, another landmark of queer cinema has been rescued and revived. Released in 1969, Toshio Matsumoto’s debut Funeral Parade of Roses shares similar thematic DNA with its counterpart from Baltimore. Both feature daring sex scenes, a plot involving a love triangle, and moments of shocking violence.
But instead of relying on Waters’s in-your-face weirdness, Matsumoto lets his experimental style do the work of setting the audience at unease. A gender-fluid take on Oedipus Rex that takes cues from Jonas Mekas (who’s name-checked in the film), Seijun Suzuki, and Andy Warhol, Funeral is a frenetic hodgepodge of styles and moods. The story is edited to circle back on itself and foreshadow important scenes from later in the film. Along the way, it includes quick jump cuts with still photographs, an argument between two characters told only in word bubbles, and glimpses behind the scenes at its own creation.
What plot there is in Funeral concerns two drag queens, Eddie (Pîtâ) and Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), vying for both the affections of club owner Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya, best known as one of Kurosawa’s seven samurai) and control of his venue. But even with an additional storyline involving Eddie’s strained relationship with his mother and some scenes of friction with passersby, Matsumoto’s main interest is in celebrating the gay lifestyle in Japan.
Throughout, Matsumoto sets scenes in an underground bar and house parties; they’re spirited and contagious, and no matter your sexual orientation, there’s no denying the joy that’s evident as, during one memorable sequence, a gaggle of men strip to their underwear and dance to some fuzzy garage rock. It’s also a blast to watch Eddie and two of his friends boldly take to the streets of Tokyo in their finest frocks—and knock one bystander back a peg when he stumbles upon them lined up in front of some urinals.
Matsumoto’s most courageous decision was to fully eroticize the sex scenes between Eddie and Gonda. By turns abstract and explicit, they’re shot in tight closeups—capturing the movement of limbs, the play of mouths on skin, and, especially, the looks of pure ecstasy on the actor’s faces. Though it adds up to a short amount of running time in the film, these brief cinematic dalliances remain some of the most memorable segments of an already unforgettable work of art.
The shorthand that always gets floated within discussions of Funeral is its influence on A Clockwork Orange. While the connections between the two films—the stylized scenes of violence, ironic music cues, and scenes sped up to emphasize their manic nature—are clear, what’s now more instructive is to appreciate the impact Funeral had on more recent cinema.
Gus Van Sant borrowed elements of the film—like Eddie’s constant slipping off into slumber and imagining surrealistic scenes, and the documentary-style interviews with the characters—for his 1991 indie My Own Private Idaho. The brassy fun that the drag queens have strutting around in public was mirrored in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. And Jon Moritsugu brought Matsumoto’s go-go energy and gonzo spirit to his low-budget cult classics Mod Fuck Explosion and Braindead. Now that Funeral Parade of Roses has finally been restored—and, in addition to playing at venues like the Hollywood Theatre, will soon be available on Blu-ray and On Demand—who knows what impact it will continue to have on the directors of the future.