Bara no sôretsu – Funeral Parade of Roses

Japan, 1969

Directed by Matsumoto Toshio

With Peter (Eddie), Ogasawara Osamu (Leda), Tsuchyia Yuchio (Gonda), Azuma Emiko (Eddie’s mother)

Slightly overexposed shots capture with much tenderness, one dainty step after another, the sexual intercourse between two bodies, male and female it seems, till after love was made it turns out the overly made-up and coiffed face actually belonged to a boy. After sex the middle-aged man and the transgender youngster have a talk, discussing their relation with a third person who looks like to be the man’s wife and a business partner; they keep chatting after leaving the apartment and as they ride through a Tôkyô neighborhood – but Eddie, the transgender young, starts panicking as she gets sure Leda, Gonda’s wife, has spotted the car of her partner as she was turning a street corner and thus saw Eddie.

The film at this point seems to have a clear narrative and purports to examine the lives of some LGBT folks in the Japanese capital. But director Matsumoto Toshio quickly dispels any certainty and discards any comfortable film convention. His film takes a bold leap into creative chaos, starting a frantically non-linear journey chronicling the lives of the staff and the patrons of the Bar Genet, the LGBT, hostess-staffed nightclub that Gonda owns and Leda runs as a madame and a queen – the very top spot Eddie is so eager to occupy – but it is also delving into other stories and even examines its own making.

Bold and cheerful: here are daring images of LGBT people in their ordinary life as well as in the midst of passion

So the film also tracks episodically the antics of some young people, with artistic ambitions of their own, gravitating around Eddie and her best friends amid the bar hostesses, a motley group united by their taste for drugs, dance, promiscuity, and a wider counterculture attitude setting them apart in the consumerist and conservative Japanese society, and injecting truly cheerful and careless fun and fantasy in the complex tapestry the fragmented montage weaves. Darker episodes, featuring a younger Eddie and his mother, tinged with a sense of menace and malaise, percolate through the unwieldy structure to reveal the tragic past of the transgender character which is still haunting her and actually would lead to the brutal and bloody finale. But the film can suddenly pushed aside any pretense to tell a story and instead carefully stages how it is made; the purpose effectively allows the real transgender persons playing the parts of Eddie and Leda to talk, through brief Q & A sessions with the director, about their own feelings and experiences; other such sessions, instilled through the whole narrative, report the sentiments about their gay attitudes and cross-dressing habits of other members of the LGBT community; as it reflects on its own fictional status the film stands also as a cinéma-vérité experiment exploring a community.

Spontaneity is de rigueur as much as irony: the examination and self-examination are unabashedly and in fact outrageously in a tongue-in-cheek mode. It is not a treatise but an empathetic look at the Tôkyô LGBT people sharing their biting sense of humor and their brash, provocative and proud assertion of a peculiar identity. At the chronological end of a period that witnessed a constant attack on more traditional, tamed ways of shooting films, after the rise of the British Free Cinema, the French Nouvelle Vague and other new waves in Japan or Brazil, the film shakes up the elements even more roughly and daringly to create an off-kilter compendium of stylistic radicalism that latches on the social manifesto of the 1960s streets unrest – now the rejuvenated filmmaking can also embrace the LGBT issues in a way that was barely attempted earlier by the new groups of directors emerging in the world; actually it has been tackled just by a few scandalous and sophisticated flicks – “Scorpio Rising” by Kenneth Anger in 1963 and of course the seminal Jean Genet’s short, “Un chant d’amour” in 1950 (that early! – but next to nothing followed in the French cinema of the 1950s and 1960s).

The messy end product may be off-putting to many but it still fascinates not only by his cheesy and cheeky situations, nicely encapsulated by the feisty and funny face-off between Leda and Eddie one early evening at the Bar Genet, a discombobulating blend of western parody, caption scribbling on still pictures and eventually pantomime fighting, but also by the quiet, awkward words of the real people Matsumoto shoots – they do not expect much from life and do not question a lot their behaviors and desires; they just live as they want, because of what they feel they are. A natural thing it is to them – and the film just suggests it is and should be viewed as such by the society around them.

Still, “Bara no sôretsu – Funeral Parade of Roses” is anchored by Eddie’s viewpoint and life. “I am the cut and the knife” reads one of the first of many intertitles scattered through the film and sarcastically commenting the images, quoting a poem by Charles Baudelaire (“’L’héautontimorouménos” – French culture seems to matter a lot to these Japanese): it powerfully sums up Eddie’s story as it unfolds. The finale, which revolves around the discovery by Gonda of an old, partly-burned photograph of toddler Eddie and his parents, with the face of the father obliterated, likens Eddie’s story to the Greek tragedy of Oedipus Rex, leading to gory and shocking images. The ultimate scandal and the most horrid way to end a love story, the sequence echoes the tragic end of Leda, who committed suicide, once repudiated by Gonda, by swallowing medicine before lying on a bed covered of roses; in fact the needles-studded voodoo puppets that Leda left on the floor were the harbingers of the tragedy to come; the bonds between these three persons are deliberately put on a higher, more poetic and symbolic ground than the love triangle’s torments that started the whole business. And that may be the most radical, passionate, supportive statement the director could make about the people he has observed: their love and identity deserve to be the topic of the same eloquent and poignant dramas as the other identities and sentiments which have monopolized the artistic creation for so long. But of course, it was to be shot in style – the brash, provocative and proud style of the Bar Genet’s hostesses.

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