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Funeral Parade of Roses is Toshio Matsumoto‘s first feature-length film, after finding much success in the world of short films and documentaries. This film is a huge influence on Stanley Kubrick‘s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange — a double feature of the two films would be very interesting, despite the different subject matter.
To provide a rough outline of the film, it is a retelling of “Oedipus Rex” set in the Tokyo Gay Bar scene; the trans actor Peter (who also appeared in Akira Kurosawa‘s Ran, among many other films) takes the lead role. The film isn’t just a straight retelling of the classic story, however; Matsumoto’s documentarian past comes through as several interviews are weaved into the film — with the actors about making the film and with trans people (including some of the actors) about the Japanese gay culture and what it is to be trans in general. Other footage from television shows and other sources are also spliced in, and other surprises that I’d prefer not to spoil.
Unfortunately, this film is very difficult to come across. In Japan, a box set of four of Matsumoto’s features was recently released with a remastered print and a box set of his shorts was also released; outside of Japan, Matsumoto is unknown, and his films are often unavailable outside of bootleg sources – the lone exception is a beautiful UK DVD of Funeral Parade put out by Eureka/Masters Of Cinema, sort of a UK equivalent of Criterion.
Speaking of Criterion, if you have seen and enjoy this film or are interested in seeing it, I ask you to write to the Criterion Collection (or, if you’re not in North America/UK, perhaps your country’s Film Institute, or another favorite DVD label specializing in these kinds of films), requesting they put out Toshio Matsumoto’s films.
This is an interesting and important film that I wish would be released legitimately outside of Japan. I don’t know who owns the US rights (or those for elsewhere); I know that New Yorker Films put out the original print for the 1970 US screening, but I don’t think they still hold the rights to the film (and given their recent closure, I would guess that the rights to most of their films are in flux). Luckily, I know of two recent screenings. The first is on March 4th and 5th in Seattle, WA at the Northwest Film Forum. I’m definitely going to be there — probably the Wednesday showing — as I love this film and am always up for another viewing of it. Unfortunately, the second screening, in New York, has already passed; it was a part of a series of many Art Theatre Group films, the Japanese company that financed it along with a lot of other important, experimental cinema (including Shuji Terayama‘s “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” — which didn’t screen — which I’d wager a lot of people have at least heard of, thanks to the Stereolab record of the same name); the news of this series came from our friends at Outcast Cinema.
At any rate — hopefully this film will become easier to watch in the near future — in the meantime, keep your ear to the ground for future screenings, and if you’re in Seattle, I hope to see you at one of the screenings this week!