Bara No Sôretsu (1968) (Funeral Parade Of Roses)
Toshio Matsumoto’s flamboyant, shape shifting, subversive Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) is perhaps the ideal poster boy for what is known as the Japanese New Wave. If this loosely defined group associated with the cinema of filmmakers such as Nagisa Oshima and Shohei Imamura attacked the traditional notion of “the Japanese Identity”, exposing the blind spots in its attempts at constructing a seamless racial, political and cultural identity for the nation and upsetting any stable ground hitherto held on to, Matsumoto’s film questions the idea of identity itself. Centering on a group of transvestites working at a bar in Tokyo’s Shinjuku District, Funeral Parade of Roses is a potpourri of fictional passages, interviews and found footage that weaves together various modes of representation/exposition and simulates the theme of amorphousness of identity that is at the heart of the film. This idea of identity-as-performance is set in motion by a tape recording that plays throughout the film and talks about humans wearing multiple masks one over the other and is fortified by the film’s perpetual self-reflexivity, which keeps revealing whatever we witness as staged. This reflexivity also keeps the film from being exploitative towards its transvestite subjects, who are instead made active participants in the creative process. Matsumoto does nothing that could undermine the dignity of his actor-characters and portrays them in all their richness: jealous, scheming, funny, carefree, tormented, self-deprecating and proud. (Not that the film takes all the right steps – it still seems to buy into the troubled childhood cliché.) Full of baffling shifts in tone, attitude, pace and narrative modes, Funeral Parade of Roses is the kind of film Almodóvar would really dig: perverse, intense, loving and dead serious.