Funeral Parade of Roses
Toshio Matsumoto 1969 ‧ Drama ‧ 1h 47m
Oedipus The Queen
“Every man has his own mask which he has carved for a long time. Some wear the same masks all their lives, others use a variety of masks… People always wear masks when they face each other. They see only masks. Even if they remove their masks their faces seldom expose themselves. Because there may be second masks. And even third masks hidden under the first ones. … Faces suffer loneliness. People try to escape from it and make new masks.”
When watching, Funeral Parade of Roses as a trans person in the 21st century is to peer into the face of a scrying glass and see one’s reflection in another time and place. A shimmering, watery vision of our culture as it was then; in the way we wore our bodies and our genders, the words we used to define ourselves, the futures we foresaw for ourselves as fringe presences in flux against a radically shifting backdrop of social and cultural revolution.
The film opens to nondescript, ivory expanses of flesh on top of sexless flesh, shot too closely, too meanderingly. This implies anything specifically gendered of these bodies; all silent and soft in a white void of light and sheets, searching, groping mouths and skin.
This is Toshio Matsumoto’s 1968 Funeral Parade of Roses. Even though it was released in 1968, its point of views and themes still hold relevance in the discourse of trans and queer identities, and its poignant parallels of the underground cultures in which these identities are fostered both then and now from.
The narrative of Funeral Parade - Soretsu no Bara, in its original Japanese - tilts and bends, kaleidoscopic, around its single point of focus in Eddie, a young trans-woman living in late 1960s Tokyo. It is this young woman whose rolling skin we are introduced to in the first shots, as she sighs and bucks against Gonda, her employer and manager.
Eddie wears thoroughly modern miniskirts, sleek bobbed wigs, and Twiggy-thick eyeliner, which she applies before her mirror like a prayer. She makes her living in an underground drag bar, appropriately titled Club Genet, where she serves drinks and company by the glass to business-suited patrons between clashes with the establishment’s “Mama”, Madame Leda, over the figurative throne, as the club’s top earner and rival for Gonda’s affection.
Little is known about Eddie’s life or past, except for the parts of her pain and her fantasy the viewer is allowed to have access to. Frequently in the form of lucid, violent visions of death and blood that plague her throughout the film: the absence of a father, a family photograph with his face burned away by a cigarette’s cherry; a mother’s mocking laugh; spilled blood and familial trauma. We sense the internal pain she has from her experiences that are so often tied to the LGBTQIA+ experience.
The film is a hybrid experimental documentary a blend of genres that can only serve what it feels to transition and navgiate ones identity as a queer, trans person of color. Funeral Parade of Roses intercuts real documentary footage with the performers, and its other trans/queer subjects. Giving us some IRL insight into the reality of what it would have been like to be Eddie, inhabiting her story and her queer journey.
For Eddie and her friends, wherever they go in public, their presence alone is interpreted either as confrontation and or invitation. Much like the realities of existing as a trans person. For example, a scene ensues when three women fighting them in the street sets off as well as the multiple sequences of Eddie and the girls walking around town. What the director gives its viewers is a chance to inhabit these trans and queer bodies to experience the life that they are willfully choosing no matter the costs. Dressed in vaudeville humor the scenes play out making it easier to accept their lives even though in reality the repercussions these trans and queer people would face are far from comedic.
Not only is the film playing with experimental forms of comedy but also with its terminology. Referring to these trans/queer subjects as “gay boys”. Seemingly as a catch-all umbrella term for an AMAB queer person, never out right saying that they were trans or queer. Was this intentional? Is the viewer more willing to accept these subjects as “bi-curious” or stereotypically as just a person going through “a phase” which is what the term “gay boy” feels like its being referred to.
What we know is that during the 1960s it was a dangerous time to be “out”, to choose a life that went so against what was deemed acceptable. Funeral Parade of Roses is pivotal in that way simply because it was made. Audiences, for possibly the first time, were given a glimpse into the stories of queer and trans people. Forced to witness them with confidence being themselves, staring right at their audience and declaring ‘I know what I am”.
By Ren Mars
Photographer and Artist