Funeral Parade of Roses: Neo-Documentarism   

Funeral Parade of Roses (dir. Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) begins with a quote, declaring its nonconformity: “I am the wound and the dagger, both the victim and the executioner!” An amalgamation of disparate images pervades the following hours: slow, erotic abstractions of bodies, dizzyingly warped film footage, the traditional talking heads of documentary, and so on.  

Funeral Parade of Roses refuses to rest and charges ahead with an ever-evolving dynamism.  

In Matsumoto’s own words, the film is “like when a mirror breaks and the pieces scatter and each broken piece reflects a different image (Ross).” Indeed, its fluidity defies categorization into genre or style. The film uses what director Matsumoto names a method of neo-documentarism, resulting in a meditation on transgender selfhood that is, though imperfect, complex and full of emotional depth. 

Toshio Matsumo belonged to a generation of Japanese filmmakers who were equally involved with film theory as they were filmmaking. As both a “pioneer of avant-garde documentary[], experimental film and video art” and “an influential and polemic film critic[/]theorist,” his approach mixes non-conventional form and intellectual thought (Ko). Matsumoto’s conception of neo-documentarism reflects this background:  

“He believed that by bringing documentary and the avant garde into dialectical confrontation, or moment of mutual negation, with each other…a new kind of cinema [would emerge, capable] of documenting the internal realities determined by external physical realities, and the external realities mediated by, or expressed through, the subjectivities of the filmmaker.” 

This new cinema avoided getting “stuck in a closed world,” skirting conventional realism’s “subordination of the artist’s subjectivity,” and the avant-garde’s disregard for the external world (Ko). Funeral Parade of Roses employs this neo-documentarism method, constantly fluctuating through enclosed fiction and documentary realism, between cohesive image and abstracted totality. 

Funeral Parade of Roses is loosely strung together by a narrative. Based on the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, the film follows Eddie (Peter) and other transgender women living in Tokyo––refered to in the movie as ‘gei boi, a term which conflated cross-dressing with transgender identity (Monson). Gondo (Yoshio Tsuchiya), owner of Bar Genet, is having an affair with Eddie, though he maintains a broken relationship with Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), Bar Genet’s ‘mama’. The central drama in the story surrounds their relationship, which is all the more complicated by Eddie’s secret past. Yet even with this melodramatic spine, the film rejects emotional superficiality.  

In a small gallery, Eddie browses artwork, a tape-recorder narrating: “Every man has his own mask…which he has carved for a long time. Some wear the same masks all their lives…” Eddie’s eyes, painted with striking Twiggy-esque liner, fill the screen. The camera rapidly zooms on paintings, of which vaguely human forms can be distinguished––eyes, faces, mouths––though all grotesque and abstracted. A rhythmic sound matches the rapid zooms, heightening the aura of anxiety as it quickens in pace. A cut, then silence interrupts: a woman’s body writhes in pain, her hand clamped to her stomach as blood spurts out. Back to Eddie, who begins to faint. The camera takes on her viewpoint, whirling up to the ceiling and then back to the ground. The audience is transported back to Shinjuku; Eddie falls in a drunken stupor, helped up by a friend. An image of naked people flashes across the screen: standing in a line, one with a rose (rose here being a reclamation of a derogatory term) between their thighs. Back in Shinjuku, Eddie and her friend stumble into a taxi. Suddenly we see a woman threading film through a reel––a nod to the cinematic apparatus. Guevara (Toyosaburo Uchiyama), a friend of Eddie’s, fixes himself up in front of a small mirror. He sneezes and his beard falls off. A portrait of his hairless face appears momentarily. Eddie and her friend, a man from Bar Genet, make love. But the spell of their intimacy is broken––revealed to be a film shoot.   

The film’s chaos never ceases. But there are moments of calm. Namely the interview segments with the actors, where they are asked about their gender and sexuality; these interviews offers subjectivity to the “gei boi” actors (some cis, some trans). The mosaic of subjectivities, of realities, and of fabrications creates a picture much fuller than a conventional style could.  

Funeral Parade of Roses cannot be consumed with ease. The film culminates in an explosion of gore, ending on an almost unbearably dark note––in keeping with the Greek tragedy on which it is basedIts particular Oedipal inflections do teeter the edge of stereotypes. However, Matsumoto’s style opens new doors to explore subjectivity, ones that treat a transgender story with great care. 

*Funeral Parade of Roses (dir. Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) is available to stream on Mubi.  

Sources/Further Readings  

Ko, Mika. “’Neo-Documentarism‘ in Funeral Parade of Roses: The New Realism of Matsumoto Toshio.” Screen, vol. 52, no. 3, 2011, pp. 376–390., doi:10.1093/screen/hjr022.  

Ross, Julina. “Funeral Parade of Roses.” Sight & Sound. Summer 2020, Vol. 30, Issue 6.  

Monson, Leigh. “EDITORIAL: ‘Funeral Parade of Roses’ Is A Queer Cinema Classic Worth Rediscovering.” Substream Magazine. November 16, 2017.