Funeral Parade of Roses [1969]

“Funeral Parade of Roses” is one of the more haunting films I watched in 2010, and I’m still thinking about it months after my first viewing. Beautiful, poignant, perverse, and stylish, this exploration of gay culture and identity in late-1960s Japan has a shocking intensity that has lost none of its impact in the forty-plus years since its release. There’s a richness of symbolism, a complex artistic intent, and a disorienting structure here that makes the task of discussing the film a daunting one indeed.

The first feature film by director Toshio Matsumoto, “Funeral Parade of Roses” tells the story of Eddie, a startlingly beautiful drag queen who works as a hostess in a Tokyo bar. Eddie and his rival Leda vie for the affections of Gonda, a shady underworld figure who deals drugs and manages the bar where they both work. It’s clear that Eddie is struggling with a dark secret that’s alluded to in flashbacks throughout the film, and this secret eventually overwhelms him in the crushing final scenes of the film.
Funeral Parade of Roses
This quick plot summary does no justice to the movie, including as it does rollercoaster tonal shifts, Brechtian fourth-wall busting, moments of cheeky humor and digressions into full-on psychedelia. Now might be the right moment to mention that Stanley Kubrick cited “Funeral Parade of Roses” as an influence on his adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange,” and while the latter film concentrates much more on satire, the stylistic similarities are undeniable. Matsumoto’s film contains several juxtapositions of quirky music and sped-up film and has an overall Pop Art sensibility that encompasses the street fashions sported by the characters, the frequent appearance of poster art in the backgrounds of scenes, and even cartoon word balloons that emerge from the mouths of Eddie and Leda during a particularly nasty spat.
Funeral Parade of Roses

While the film focuses on the gay counterculture in Tokyo, there is a depiction of the city’s youth scene that touches on anti-war protests, hippie drug culture, juvenile delinquency, and racial tension. Surgical-masked protesters hold a mock funeral, stalling traffic on the street. One of Eddie’s suitors is an African-American soldier stationed in Japan. Eddie and his cross-dressing friends get into a brawl with a tattooed girl gang.
Funeral Parade of Roses
The movie consists of layers upon layers of context that war for the viewer’s attention. The aggressively modern production design complements the experimental structure, which includes films-within-the-film. Characters are interviewed about their lifestyles and there are erotic encounters that turn out to be nothing more than performances for a camera crew which is revealed mid-action. This cutting-edge modernity is in contrast with other themes in the movie that are drawn from Greek mythology. Leda is a familiar name to Classicists for her unnatural dalliances with Zeus in swan-form, and the name Eddie is derived from that of the tragic king Oedipus. This tension between modern and classical, East and West, underground and mainstream culture informs every frame of “Funeral Parade of Roses.”
Funeral Parade of Roses
The depiction of gay culture is remarkably nuanced and sensitive–characters are shown who exist along the continuum of gender and sexual identity. While the central characters dress and behave like women, they identify as gay men and specifically express the fact that they are not transsexuals. Several of the gay men in the film are what might be called “straight-acting,” with the behavior and attire traditionally reserved for “macho,” heterosexual men.
Funeral Parade of Roses
In the role of Eddie, actor Peter conveys a sensuality and beauty that are hypnotically androgynous. His elegant physicality and nuanced facial expressions infuse the film with a humanity that might be lost among all the flashy artistry. The inevitability of his fate is made all the more tragic because he is a fully-formed person feeling very real pain beneath all the makeup and artifice.
Funeral Parade of Roses
It’s difficult to distill a movie like “Funeral Parade of Roses” because it so perfectly utilizes the cinematic medium. There’s something really energizing about seeing a movie that embraces the potential of film. Sound, time, and visuals combine to create an artifact that should be watched and appreciated for its extreme film-ness. Like the best pieces of art, “Funeral Parade of Roses” will leave you thinking long after you’ve finished watching.
8:19 AM

12 thoughts on “Funeral Parade of Roses [1969]”

  1. Wow, this sounds really fascinating, and weird! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this before – how does it not get more attention?

    It sounds somewhere between Seijun Suzuki, Yukio Mishima, Hausu, and yakuza movies, but with the added twist of queer characters and Sophoclean tragedy… I’ll definitely be trying to check this out.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  2. That sounds very cool.

    I always find it odd that Western culture (in particular) equates homosexuality in men with effeminate personalities. I wonder if the Japanese are the same? Mishima was certainly gay, and certainly masculine, but seemed to never come out. The Marquis de Sade was what we would call gay today, or bisexual at the least (he preferred to ‘catch’ as they say) but also does not fit the modern gay stereotype.

  3. The ihasTHISmoviethatYemightliketoo Zone say:
    BLACK LIZARD (1968)…is also in entirety on YouTube! Tranvestite playing femme fatale lead! Yukio Mishima plays one of Her former lovahs turned into statue! Aubrey Beardsley SALOME discotheque wall designs!*In Colah* 😀

  4. Sorry if I’m threadjacking here. I don’t mean to.

    I’ve been looking for this for a while (how did you see it?). I’m pretty sure it will only piss me off once I find it. Most movies that conflate outwardly trans gender expressions with gay men and gay culture in an appropriative way usually do. That last image you’ve posted here is typically problematic from the political point of view of this trans activist, too, given the role of bathrooms in the disenfranchisement of trans women.

    But I’m reeeealy curious.

    The onigatta has a completely different cultural history than drag performance in the west, so maybe I’m wrong. And, really, there’s no point in me railing against a forty year old depiction, is there? No. And if it’s a good movie, I guess I don’t really care.

    Peter, the lead actor, went on to play The Fool in Kurosawa’s Ran, by the way. I don’t know if you knew that. I’ve wondered why Kurosawa insisted on an androgynous depiction for years, to no good effect.

  5. Andreas, the movie is amazing–I was lucky enough to hear about it via the podcast Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnight Cinema, and put it on my to-watch list as a result. The copy I watched was an R2 DVD released by a UK company called Eureka. It’s definitely worth the effort to see the movie! I was not disappointed 🙂

    Thanks, Drunketh!

    Interesting points about queer identity, Darius! Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about Japanese attitudes towards depictions of male homosexuality–there are certainly plenty of stereotypes in that country’s genre cinema, but those seem to come from Western culture (flouncey physical comedy, giggliness, etc). I’m not sure of traditional attitudes. I do know that female homosexuality is WAY ore taboo than it is in the West, as I’ve heard heard girl-on-girl erotic scenes referred to as “rape scenes.”

    Thank you, Joey, bringer of excellence 😀

    Doc M, no worries about threadjacking–ain’t no such thing around here 🙂 The copy I watched was the Eureka disc–should be fairly get-able, as I see some copies on Amazon. Interesting points about the appropriative nature of gay drag! I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, and can see where that would be problematic. The attitude in the movie seems to be that gender and sexuality are fluid and are expressed on an individual level. As Darius mentioned above, I’d be very curious to learn more about traditional portrayals of gender and sexuality in Japan to understand even more of the layers of meaning to what’s shown on screen!

  6. This sounds fascinating! And as daunting a task as you may have found to discuss the film, your reflections on it are wonderfully enlightening. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  7. As long as gender politics are the way we are going, I really need to actually read Michel Foucault’s “The History of Sexuality” in which he posits that homosexuality is only a construct created by heterosexuals to single-out those that are different. You define normal by what is “not” normal. Ever wonder why no one calls the Spartans gay? Because no one had thought of it yet, and since they were institutionally “homosexual” as well as in charge, it was the norm.

    I am really not that well read, I just have a professional student’s skill at finding sources that fit my arguments. I have read a Foucault primer that seemed to be good. I have only skimmed “The History of Sexuality.” So, if I am actually full of shit, I am willing to listen 🙂

  8. I thought it seemed as though Gonda was bisexual since he was involved sexually with men and women. I did find it interesting the “interviews” in the middle of the film with some people commenting on their own identity as a gay man or transwoman (there were some transsexuals in the film, right?) as well as the actors discussing how they felt about the scenes they just shot. This is a very special film and not like many others.

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