Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列) is part documentary, part art film and part dramatic narrative, following the gay and drug cultures of late 1960’s – early 1970’s Japan.
Like any movie that is trying to be so many things at once, it’s only partially successful at any of them.
The “gay” part follows Leda and Eddie, two gay crossdressers who work as hostesses at an okama bar. Leda is the owner’s regular, his wife in effect, and Eddie is his piece on the side. Leda rants about Eddie at home and Eddie stresses about Leda in the car. The owner is kind of an asshole, so I don’t feel bad for him. There’s a bittersweet story in between the melodrama here, one about love and betrayal and is exactly why so many LGBT people today are fighting to be able to have legal, social and financial recognition for their relationships.
Interspersed between art film scenes which can only be described as “Man Ray, they ain’t” are scenes of the group that are making those films led by a guy they call Guevara, and the drugs and parties they participate in. These scenes are campy because really, there’s no other way to film semi-nude drunken/stoned dancing in their underwear scenes that aren’t plain old sad.
These scenes are further cut by “documentary” sequences in which the film crew asks inane questions of the okama boys, or the drug users. These questions invariably made this viewer cringe. “So,” the interviewer asks Leda, “you don’t see women as sexually attractive?” or asks one of Guevara’s group, “What happens when you smoke marijuana?” I cringed for the same reason I cringe when I’m forced to watch a show on Ancient Egypt on Discovery and the narrator talks about everything in that tone of obsequious amazement. (We have a shorthand phrase for that kind of ingenuous astonishment – “Were they here….or did they come?” which was an actual phrase used at the sound and light show at Chichen Itza. It was used as a kind of chorus, and made us laugh every time they said it.)
Everything between Leda and Eddie comes to a head when they have an extremely silly fight, made even sillier by goofy carnival music. (I was rooting for Leda. Eddie was a jerk.) Another counterculture element is added in the form of a Eddie participating in a porn movie shoot and scenes from Eddie’s youth that are taken right out of a pulp novel. The end to the story was likewise full of pulp-y horror and melodrama, and post-story art film moralizing.
The DVD comes with a pretty thick pamphlet that will tell you everything I just said, but do it with film crit admiration, hyperbole and a digression into Pink films and lots of references to filmmaker’s names, which I won’t.
The links to the title on Amazon go to the Region 2 version with subtitles. I don’t suppose that should present too many obstacles to modern viewers, but FYI. The R2 has been localized for a British English speaking audience, which provided me with a little bit of extra pleasure to imagine the British audience for this movie.
The movie itself is paced excruciatingly slowly, with that slow, death-trance music that so many Japanese movies seem to favor. (See my reviews of Blue and Kakera for similar complaints.) The background for the movie is the student protest-torn Japanese political and social landscape, which represents both a counterculture – and the roots of the political landscape that now exists in Japan in mainstream culture.
I can’t say I learned anything from this movie I didn’t know, or couldn’t guess, but then, I was actually alive during these years. For an audience twenty years younger than me, the bits at the gay bar might be a bit of a lesson about a world long before they were born.
Overall – 6
My very sincere thanks to James Welker for his sponsorship of today’s review – it was an interesting experience!