srijeda, 12. prosinca 2012.

Toshio Matsumoto - Pogrebna povorka ruža (1969)

Karnevalski miks dokumentarca i avangardističke psihodelije. Slobodna obrada Kralja Edipa, lirično-apstraktni, ekstatični portret podzemne tokijske gej kontrakulture '60-ih.
Jedan od vizualno najupečatljivijih filmova svih vremena.


A feverish collision of avant-garde aesthetics and grind-house shocks (not to mention a direct influence on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Funeral Parade of Roses takes us on an electrifying journey into the nether-regions of the late-’60s Tokyo underworld. In Toshio Matsumoto’s controversial debut feature, seemingly nothing is taboo: neither the incorporation of visual flourishes straight from the worlds of contemporary graphic-design, painting, comic-books, and animation; nor the unflinching depiction of nudity, sex, drug-use, and public-toilets. But of all the “transgressions” here on display, perhaps one in particular stands out the most: the film’s groundbreaking and unapologetic portrayal of Japanese gay subculture.
Cross-dressing club-kid Eddie (played by real-life transvestite entertainer extraordinaire Peter, famed for his role as Kyoami the Fool in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran) vies with a rival drag-queen (Osamu Ogasawara) for the favours of drug-dealing cabaret-manager Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya, himself a Kurosawa player who appeared in such films as Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and High and Low). Passions escalate and blood begins to flow — before all tensions are released in a jolting climax that prefigures by nearly thirty years Tsai Ming-liang’s similarly scandalous The River.
With its mixture of purely narrative sequences and documentary footage, Funeral Parade of Roses comes to us from a moment when cinema set itself to test, and even eradicate, the boundaries between fiction and reality, desire and experience; consequently, the film shares a kinship with such other 1969 works as Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide and Ingmar Bergman’s A Passion [The Passion of Anna]. Yet Matsumoto achieves a zig-zag modulation between pathos and hilarity that makes his picture utterly unique: a filmic howl in the face of social, moral, and artistic convention. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses for the first time outside of Japan on any home video format.-


The Weavers of Nishijin (1961)
The Song of Stone (1963)
Mothers (1967)
For the Damaged Right Eye (1968)
Ecstasis (1969)
Metastasis (1971)
Expansion (1972)
Mona Lisa (1973)
Andy Warhol – Re-production (1974)
Atman (1975)
Phantom (1975)
Everything Visible Is Empty (1975)
Enigma (1978)
White hole (1979)
Ki or Breathing (1980)
Connection (1981)
Relation (1982)
Sway (1985)
Engram (1987) 


Admittedly, there is something rather creepy and repellant about drag queens and trannies (hence why they are always the subject of jokes and mental derangement, especially in the pre-p.c. gay world), which probably has to do with the fact that no matter how much makeup they wear and how much money they waste on mutilating themselves with plastic surgery, their Y chromosomes will always have control, even if they have an ostensibly ‘female soul,’ yet it seems Japs in drag—for whatever reason (but most likely due to 'delicate' and petite overall look of the entire Japanese race, both male and female)—have a much easier time pulling their gender-bending off, especially in comparison to their Aryan and Negro counterparts, or at least that is what one would be led to believe after watching Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) aka Bara no Sōretsu directed by Toshio Matsumoto. A criminally underrated and under-seen work of avant-garde Jap pop-art of the cinematically hybridized experimental and cinéma vérité sort that schizophrenically blends elements from melodrama, horror, agitprop, and documentary, as well as fiction and reality, Funeral Parade of Roses would go on to inspire none other than Stanley Kubrick, who utilized aesthetic and thematic elements of the Japanese film for his masterpiece of dystopian ultra-violence A Clockwork Orange (1971), yet Matsumoto has only gained a marginal reputation in the Occident for his debut-feature-length masterpiece of the gender confused. The Japanese equivalent to what Warhol was doing cinematically in NYC at the time with works like Chelsea Girls (1966) and Lonesome Cowboys (1968), except all the more technically competent and all the more degenerate and morally reprehensible, Funeral Parade of Roses takes place in a superlatively seedy and socially subversive underground Sodom of late-1960s Tokyo, where gay men that are called “queens” dress in women’s clothing yet hate the fairer sex and will stop at nothing to steal their men. An innately aberrant and sardonic cinematic adaption of the Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, except with a twist where the anti-hero murders his mother instead of his father due to his incestuous homosexuality as opposed to heterosexuality, Funeral Parade of Roses is a wild and wanton window into a post-WWII Japan – a place where the ancient legacy of the samurai is no more and where “men” are more willing to wear dresses and makeup and violently attack women than flying a plane into an American battleship. The first and probably the greatest gay Japanese film ever made, Funeral Parade of Roses is—not unlike many Jap films—a work that is simultaneously a goofy and grotesque piece of oriental psychopathia sexualis in celluloid mosaic form that is greater than the sum of its equally sordid and satirical parts.  As a filmmaker character in Funeral Parade of Roses states, quoting Jonas “the godfather of American avant-garde cinema” Mekas, “All definitions of cinema have been erased…” and the same can be certainly said in regard to Matsumoto's magnetic and mystifying gay Jap masterpiece of the merrily macabre.

Eddie (played by real-life tranvestite “Pîtâ” aka “Peter” who later played 'Kyoami the Fool' in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985)) is a mixed up “Japanese Michael Alig” who does what he wants whenever he wants, especially if it is going to fulfill some sort of hedonistic desire and/or further cement his infamous reputation as a rabid drag queen of the unhinged Tokyo underground realm. A pathological narcissist who stares at himself in the mirror all day and night, Eddie has taken his stereotypically female character traits to such extremes that he is willing to do anything to calm his estrogen-driven jealousy, including bitching out women with real boobs and even brutally murdering them, including the woman who gave birth to him. Being the fierce femme in the relationship, Eddie relies on 'butch' alpha-queer Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya, who starred in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and High and Low)—the criminally-inclined owner of the fittingly titled “Bar Genet” who is involved in prostitution and drug dealing—for sex, drugs, and rock n roll, but a rival drag queen named Leda (Osamu Ogasawara in his sole film role), who runs the bar, wants to tear the terrible twosome apart. When it comes down to it, Eddie is an attention and pleasure seeking whore will do anything and everything for a meager inkling of fame and fortune, including being the subject of a documentary on Tokyo Trannies and underground porn films that are pinker than a pussy lady-boy in a kimono and go-go boots. Of course, erotomaniac Eddie’s life was not always so glamorous as his belligerent bitch of a mother (Emiko Azuma) was not amused when she found her fairy son putting on her makeup and posing like a true poof in her mirror, so she naturally beat the shit out of him, but proving to be the true “queen bitch,” the prodigal son turned perverted daughter paid her back by symbolically stabbing her in the womb.  Plagued by his matricidal past and his deep-seated desire to be a real biological woman, deranged Eddie is naturally on the verge on detonating and with the sort of drug-addicted drag queens and fag pimps he surrounds himself with, it is only a matter of time before he explodes in a cinematic climax fit for a jaded Japanese queen. so it is only a matter of time before his   As a schizophrenic film-within-a-film with pseudo-documentary and sex scenes from the porn flick Eddie is starring in, Funeral Parade of Roses is essentially like an erratic adventure through the abberosexual anti-hero’s perturbed yet playful mind, where his transvestite persona and ‘true self’ get lost somewhere in a bittersweet maze of madness, misery, and ecstasy. Taking its central theme from the verse “I am the wound and the blade, both the torturer and he who is flayed” from the poetry volume Les Fleurs du mal (1857) aka The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire, Funeral Parade of Roses offers a sympathetic, albeit now politically incorrect, perspective of what it is like being a sexually confused Japanese man whose very essence is out of wack with his biological body, thus leading to the most brazen and, quite literally, bloody of consequences of a mixed-up man-woman who no longer wants to 'see' reality for what it is.

In regard to his use of real newscasters, hippie drug addicts, drag queens and whatnot in Funeral Parade of Roses, director Toshio Matsumoto offered the following insight regarding his technique with the film, “They appeared as real people…half acting in the roles in the film…and half portraying themselves in a real situation. That’s the kind of style in which I wanted them to appear. I certainly didn’t have the budget for it…so I just asked them as friends to appear in the film. However, it’s very difficult to tell when you’re watching the film…what exactly is a real situation and what is fictional…what I mean is that…not everything in the neatly arranged within a frame of reference.” Indeed, Funeral Parade of Roses is aesthetically anarchic as it is morally and sexually, as a delightfully deranged and discordant work featuring Cocteau-esque camera tricks, Warholian wantonness, a protagonist more psychosexually disturbed than Norman Bates of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), homo human creatures as camp-ridden and flaming as in Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), yellow cocksucking criminals as callous and corrupt as those featured in the novels of Jean Genet and morbidness and grotesquery as aesthetically pleasing as the words of Baudelaire, and a postmodern celluloid montage technique that puts the works of Alexander Kluge to shame. Indubitably, it is no coincidence that novelist Yukio Mishima—a quasi-closeted gay man who worked in various avant-garde artistic mediums that would eventually become extremely right-wing and nationalist and lived by the bushido (the code of the samurai), even forming his own private army, the Tatenokai ("shield society")—committed ritual suicide via seppuku only a year after the release of Funeral Parade of Roses, thus making him, arguably, the last Japanese public figure to commit self-slaughter in such an ancient fashion. With apocalyptic quotes like, “I wish the whole country would sink underwater” and “The world is reaching its end,” Funeral Parade of Roses acts as a sort of campy cinematic last rites for everything that was traditional in Japan before because, as where in the past menmerely dressed in women’s clothing for Kabuki theatre, now they have literally taken on female identities and adopted degenerate Occidental counter-culture garbage.  Indeed, it may have been a great human tragedy when the Americans nuked the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War, but the greatest tragedy caused by the war was the disintegration of the nuclear family, traditional Japanese culture, and the way of the samurai, and a film like Funeral Parade of Roses just happens to be one of the few good, if not odious and ominous yet sardonically side-splitting, aesthetic occurrences to come out of this steady cultural degeneration, but as the conclusion of Matsumoto's film reveals, things in the "Land of the Rising Sun" may get rather ugly if these cultural trends do not end.  After all, something has to be going terribly wrong in a nation where one can buy used female panties in a vending machine.  -Soiled Sinema

For My Crushed Right Eye - The Visionary Films of Toshio Matsumoto

One of the great pioneers of Sixties counter-cinema, Japanese director, video artist and critic Toshio Matsumoto (b. 1932) rose to prominence as a daring stylist and fearless provocateur whose radically experimental films shattered social and aesthetic taboos with inspired precision and energy. Matsumoto began as a documentary filmmaker, directing a series of abstract and subtly political shorts that applied a mode of poetic anthropology to postwar society and culture. Among Matsumoto's earliest works were two important collaborations with fellow member of the Jikken-Kobo artist collective, the legendary composer Toru Takemitsu who contributed some of his earliest scores to Matsumoto's lyrical documentaries Ginrin and Song of the Stone. An influential critic and theorist, Matsumoto increasingly embraced formal experimentation, culminating in his dazzling three projector film, For My Crushed Right Eye and his incendiary feature film debut, Funeral Parade of Roses, one of the most important films produced by the remarkable independent distribution and production company Art Theater Guild. Making prominent use of music and mandala-like formal structures, Matsumoto's deeply immersive and frequently psychedelic avant-garde films are trance inducing and quietly intense adventures in perception.


Funeral Parade of Roses

Directed by Toshio Matsumoto
With Pîtâ, Osamu Ogasawara, Toyosaburo Uchiyama
Japan 1969, 35mm, b/w, 105 min
A carnivalesque melding of documentary verité and avant-garde psychedelia, Funeral Parade of Roses offers a shocking and ecstatic journey through the nocturnal underworld of Tokyo's Shinjuku neighborhood, following the strange misadventures of a rebellious drag queen fending off his/her rivals. Often cited as a major inspiration for Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Matsumoto's breakthrough film is a visually audacious and lyrically abstract testament to the vertiginous daring of the postwar Japanese avant-garde art and film scenes. Matsumoto orchestrates a series of quite astonishing visual set pieces, including actual performances by the influential Fluxus-inspired street theater groups, the Zero Jigen and Genpei Akasegawa.



The Weavers of Nishijin (1961)
The Song of Stone (1963) 

Mothers (1967)
For The Damaged Right Eye (1968) 

Ecstasis (1969)
Metastasis (1971) 

Expansion (1972) 

Mona Lisa (1973) 

Andy Warhol (Re-Reproduction) (1974)
Phantom (1975) 

Atman (1975) 

Everything Visible Is Empty (1975) 

Enigma (1978)
White Hole (1979) 

Ki or Breathing (1980)
Connection (1981) 

Shift (1982) 

Sway (1985) 

Engram (1987) 

SHURA (Pandemonium)  


 After college, Toshio Matsumoto began working at Shin-Riken Film Company and created Ginrin (1955), a progressive commercial film, in collaboration with the members of Jikken Kōbō or Experimental Workshop, an artist' group consisting of composers and artists. Since then, he has produced numerous experimental documentaries in addition to developing and publishing his own film theories. In the 1960s he started making experimental films and video art, influencing many other artists. Among his works are For the Damaged Right Eye (1968), Space Projection Ako (1970) for the Textiles Pavilion in Japan Expo '70, and Mona Lisa (1973). He has also directed commercial films, including Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) and Dogura Magura (1988). His book Eizō no hakken: Avangyarudo to dokyumentari (Discovery of Image: Avant-garde Documentary) was published in 1963 and republished in 2005.

Documentarists of Japan # 9
Matsumoto Toshio Translated by Aaron Gerow

Matsumoto: Well, I loved painting. I had been painting since middle school, but Japan was very poor at the time I was about to enter college in the early 1950s. To do painting meant you weren’t going to eat. Even so, I wanted to paint, but my parents were bitterly opposed to me going to an art school and said they wouldn’t pay for art school examinations or tuition. In those days, there weren’t part-time jobs around like there are today, so there was no way I could have done it on my own. So I gave up on art school and entered the medical course at the University of Tokyo because I was interested in the brain and problems like schizophrenia.
But even though I didn’t necessarily grow to dislike that, I thought I had only one life to live and I wanted to pursue art. Without telling my parents, I changed my major half-way through to art and art history in the literature faculty. Tokyo, however, didn’t really have any classes teaching you how to paint, so I studied art theory and history in school and learned painting on my own. In my studies, I learned for the first time that there was an avant-garde cinema in Europe in the 1920s that visually was deeply related to contemporary art–a fact that struck me like a bolt out of the blue. Though I couldn’t see these films in Japan, I was strongly stimulated by foreign books and articles about them. I felt that this, an area where issues of art and cinema overlapped, was what I had been searching for.
Of course, I loved movies and went to see them a lot from the time I was in middle and high school. I was even treated like a juvenile delinquent and was arrested twice by the Shinjuku police because I skipped school. Well, I was that much in love with film, and I asked a friend of mine who had a stock holders pass–his father was in the theater business–to lend it to me, telling him I’d return it whenever he wanted to go. I’d go to school until noon and then go straight to Shinjuku where I’d see one movie after another, going into every first-run theater in Shinjuku from one end to another. To see all the first-run films in Shinjuku meant that I was seeing almost all the releases.
Gerow: Both Japanese and foreign ones?
Matsumoto: Yes, anything, including old films at repertory houses. I saw several hundred in a year–I liked movies that much. But I only came to want to make films myself when, as I said, I encountered the world of experimental film. Until then, I had liked cinema as a spectator–wanting to make it on my own came later. It was right at the end of high school and the beginning of college that Italian Neorealist films came to Japan and also influenced me. I was shocked in a way I had never been before. How can I say it? I felt I should really think more seriously about a kind of cinema that could completely unify reality and expression and delve its way into people’s minds.
So my starting point was Italian Neorealism and experimentalism–the avant-garde and the documentary. Both were extremely fascinating to me, but that’s where problems arose. Although I found the freedom of avant-garde’s uninhibited, imaginative world extremely attractive, it had the tendency to get stuck in a closed world. Documentaries, on the other hand, while intensely related to reality, would not really thoroughly address internal mental states and were so dependent upon their temporal contexts they would look old-fashioned if their temporal context changed. I wondered whether the point of collision between the limitations and strong points of the two forms could not pose a new set of topics for cinema. My starting point was thus to investigate, using Alain Resnais’s Guernica as a handhold, this kind of imagined cinema.
That said, however, the most basic thing is to firmly plant one’s feet in the essential characteristics of the cinematic medium: its documentary quality and its sense of reality. Maybe today there are lots of images you can produce without a camera, but basically as long as you are filming with a camera, there is a reality before you. The first problem when starting out is how to approach the tripartite relationship between that objective reality, the world of expression, and the filmmaker’s subjective manipulation.
At any rate, since I didn’t study production in college, I set a goal of trying to catch up with what people usually study in four years of film school in about a year on the job after getting out of college. To do that, I planned to join a mid-size film company without a precise division of labor, a place where I could take part in all aspects of filmmaking from beginning to end, and thereby master the basics of production. The company I entered with that in mind was called Shin Riken Cinema. There was nothing particularly attractive about the company, but it was just about the right size for me to acquire basic filmmaking technique. In fact, I was able to get involved in all aspects of film production, from the start of planning to the completion of the film. Outside work, I listened, read, and saw a lot: I borrowed films and analyzed them, studying how they had been made. In that way, I learned in about a year what you study in the directing course at Nihon University, and then started making films the next year.
The first was a film called Silver Ring (”Ginrin”) planned and produced along with Yamaguchi Katsuhiro and Takemitsu Toru–who died just recently–when Takemitsu was still an unknown. It was in fact a PR film, but a relatively avant-garde one at that. It was highly praised by some in the art world and about ten years ago, when the Pompidou Center did a retrospective on the 1950s Japanese avant-garde, the commissioner in fact asked to show it. The people involved at the time split up and looked for it, but the company that made it had gone under and no one knew where it was, even though it was pretty valuable. I think the piece of musique concrete composed by Takemitsu was probably the first ever used in a film in Japan. For that reason, it was priceless and it’s a shame the negative is lost.
The next film I made was a documentary called Caisson (”Senkan,” 1956). On the coast of a place called Hachinohe in Aomori, there was a construction site where they would lay a building’s foundation inside a caisson while using high pressure to keep out the sea water. The people, you see, who did construction work under that extremely high pressure inside the caisson were prone to various illnesses like heart disease. This brutal work was done by Koreans or farmers from northern Japan who were unemployed and came there for work. The film focused on such a place.
The next one was also a documentary, a film titled Children Calling Spring (”Haru o yobu kora,” 1959)1 shot both in a mountain village in Iwate Prefecture and in Tokyo’s old town district. You know, some called Iwate Prefecture the Tibet of Japan in those days. Since there was little labor power available in the lower levels of urban society, kids from around Iwate who graduated from middle school would be taken to the city to do back-breaking jobs. The reasoning was that since their life was already arduous, they could endure such work. I filmed a documentary about the connections between such farm villages and the bottom rung of city life using the then emblematic “group hirings” as a point of entry.
But I confronted a problem while filming these works. The problem was that in those days, a good documentary was defined as something that, first of all, had a poignant subject, and then was socially or politically controversial. In other words, something that had information value even before the film was shot. But one wondered how much value beyond that the film created on its own as a film. There was something that bothered me about this. I asked how one could establish the value of the work in the expressive power and reality of cinema as cinema itself, instead of leaning on a comparison between the film and reality. As long as film is confined to being a means or tool of representationally transmitting reality, it can be journalism or propaganda but not art. In so far as we demand artistic emotions from film, we should present the independent value of cinema more distinctly as another reality. If one doesn’t do that, then when social incidents or political struggles become less visible on the surface of the contemporary scene, documentary will go into decline. And when socio-political problems manifest themselves again, the genre will prosper once more. I found that disturbing in the end.
We may, for instance, have been extremely thrilled with Italian Neorealism as the starting point of postwar cinema, but when the postwar world, including Italy, soon recovered economically, Italian Neorealism ran into a dead end. In the period of resistance during the war, the drama of life pushed to the limits was laid bare on society’s surface, a situation where people who tried to live as human beings were killed, and those who instead tried to survive had to betray their friends. Immediately after the war, there was poverty and hunger you could instantly understand just by looking at it. In an age when such problems were the most pressing ones faced by the world, taking hold of such a naked actuality made immediate connections to a reality experienced communally on a global level. But when the so-called economic recovery began and that poverty or life at the limits could no longer be seen directly, Italian Neorealism could no longer completely grasp this new reality and produce good work. People who stubbornly insisted on actual, visualized phenomena could search for and consider positions from which they could grasp social contradictions from the outside, such as in a reconsideration of past eras where poverty was evident on the surface or in locations on the margins currently like that.
But being able only to take on social contradictions in that way was, I had to admit, kind of odd. In reality, you can’t say that contradictions have disappeared just because the economy has improved–there are still plenty of them. You can say that people can now eat, or have things to wear, or that cities have been rebuilt, but if you don’t try to grasp less visible contradictions such as emotional and spiritual poverty or emptiness, you can’t deal with the new age, can you? I was constantly thinking about this problem at the time. From that point, I asked whether there wasn’t a need for documentary to assume a subjectivity that could make visible what was invisible. In that sense, I felt that documentary and the avant-garde have to be connected within a moment of mutual negation.
Gerow: Of course, when you faced that problem, you did try to solve it within your own films. But in addition, you also tried to take up these issues in your writing. It seems that in that era, many filmmakers like Oshima Nagisa in the Shochiku Nouvelle Vague were participating in debates in film journals–that the position of being both a critic and a filmmaker was quite common then.
Matsumoto: That’s because there were no critics in the film world who could assume an overview of the era, and there were too many horrible things about the industry that filmmakers just could not keep quiet about. In particular, in the case of Japan, there was the issue of war responsibility. Even literature and art were wrapped around the little finger of the state during the war. Well, the people who made national propaganda films collaborating with the war effort made an about-face when America arrived after the war and in a blink of the eye began making democratic movies. That was strange because filmmakers did that without going through a stage of internal conflict, without exposing their own responsibility for the war. Both during and after the war, they made films according to the dominant trends in society or government without thoroughly investigating their own position within this. In the film world in particular, people didn’t independently pursue their own wartime responsibility. The kind of character that’s able to immediately make democratic movies while feigning ignorance about the past is what ruined postwar Japanese cinema. That’s why, even in terms of the problem of realism, there was no difference between the realism of militarist films fanning war sentiment and the realism of postwar democratic motion pictures. Only the topic or subject changed. Words were necessary in order to expose this deception and make an issue of the reform of Japanese cinema, one starting from the basic structure of expression and consciousness. Since there was no one else doing that, I ended up writing criticism. I did everything: filmmaking, criticism, theory, mobilizing, and organizing. Since no one was organizing screenings, I even did that. Everything.
Documentaries up until then were mostly made with the backing of a labor union or Communist Party organization. If you thought of doing something different from that, you had to create a completely different support structure because there was no foundation for making such films or showing them. You were forced to start from there. Right at that time, just after the setback over the 1960 US-Japan Security Treaty, I filmed the documentary Nishijin2 with the backing of a film viewer society called the “Kyoto Society for Viewing Documentary Cinema.” Of course, in terms of awareness, they were left-wing, but still not what you call a political organization. I think they were the first to try to cultivate new spectators and make the kind of films they wanted to see on their own. As an initial plan, I proposed something like what I’ve just been talking about and got their approval to address Kyoto’s Nishijin with the aim of giving form to something more deeply submerged within the situation, something warped and hard to express. I wasn’t trying to depict the place called Nishijin or show people weaving, but to give shape to the thick, silent, unvoiced voices lurking beneath Nishijin. I eliminated so-called “unusual” subjects or decisive moments and opted for the form of a cine poem that persistently piled up exacting images. Opinion was divided over the results, but the fact it won the Silver Lion at the Venice International Documentary Film Festival helped clear the way for my next steps.
Next was a film called The Song of Stones (”Ishi no uta,” 1960).3 There I also started on purpose from a position that rejected the information value of the material. The subject is stones, right? Rocks don’t say a thing. Furthermore, this work put on film what had once been shot in photographs and rearranged them. Therefore, it was doubly removed from cinema. In most cases, stone comes to symbolize death, but the stonecutters in this rock quarry in Shikoku, when they cut out the rock and polished it, didn’t say, “The rock is gradually taking form”; they said, “The rock is gradually coming to life.” Hearing that, it struck me that this was just like a film during production. If a film, having started from a place furthest from the cinema–that is, from the death of cinema–begins to breathe, then can’t you say it has “come to life?” In this sense, the theme of the film was to overlap, as a metaphorical expression, the thick silence of the stones and cinema with that era’s sense of frustration and emptiness and to try to revive the breath of life in both.
When the film was shown at France’s Tours Film Festival, opinion was divided. At that time, Georges Sadoul–the Sadoul who wrote Histoire generale du cinema–wrote a review in La Lettres Francaise. Are you familiar with Marcel Carne’s film Les Visiteurs du soir? It was made at the end of the war and features a devil who could be likened to the Nazis. This devil turns everything into stone and becomes ruler of the world. He even turns the hero and his lover into stone just when they are embracing, but when he listens carefully, he hears a sound coming from the lovers. The film then ends with the devil unable to turn their hearts into stone. Sadoul said that my film reminded him of the last scene of that work. He kindly wrote that from the silence of the stones as a symbol of death, to the beating of the pulse of life, The Song of Stones was the most refreshing film at that film festival and one he supported. I put the words of the stonecutters that the “stones come to live” into the film, but felt that people who could understand would figure it out without me explaining it too much.
But in this case, the world expressed throughout the film is not necessarily located in the essence of each of the photographs. The world of the film only appears in the subjective procedures of the filmmaker deciding how to cut and compose the material. I felt that through The Song of Stones, I was able to show that one can only discover the unique value of cinema by means of such decisions. I was also able to find some kind of opening, some kind of expression that transcended the faith in facts and closed in on an internal reality that one could not point one’s finger at. Therefore, in this sense, documentary started off in an extremely deformed way for me.
Gerow: In your book Eizo no hakken (”The Discovery of the Image”),4 you write that the question of documentary is a question of method. Reading that and seeing Nishijin and Song of Stones reinforced my impression that both films were technically masterful, especially in the use of montage, such as in the repetitions of shots of weaving in Nishijin. Not just the montage, but also the use of sound. I wonder if you could talk a bit more about the issue of form and method, about montage and the combination of image and sound–that is, about what you were aiming for in technique at the time.
Matsumoto: I wrote about this in the book, but at the time the tendency was to oppose documentary and fiction as genres, with the critics Iwasaki Akira and Imamura Taihei taking different sides on the debate over the superiority of fiction or fact. But I felt this debate over fact versus fiction was not very fruitful: what was important was how to inquire into the trilateral relationship between the artist, the real world, and film. Isn’t the extremely fascinating thing about cinema the fact that it instead dissolves the binary divisions between fact and fiction, between objective and subjective? If you ask me, fiction first of all is essentially an order created by cutting up and arranging an object from a certain point of view. In that sense, fictionality necessarily accompanies creation, and I think the documentary method possesses an actual meaning only in so far as it tries to formulate that order as an open reality. Classical genres may offer a standard for temporarily indexing perception, but they do begin to vacillate and change. That’s why I was against dividing cinema into completely different worlds through genres. You see, movements like the Shochiku Nouvelle Vague appeared at the beginning of the 1960s, and I think they all shared the issue of trying to transcend genre. There was a common perception that the need for change did not vary according to the genre, but was a timely issue bearing upon cinema itself amidst the great transformations of the time. The fact that Oshima Nagisa, Yoshida Yoshishige, Shinoda Masahiro–who were all still assistant directors then–and new documentarists like Hani Susumu and myself formed a group and promoted a critical movement that transcended genre at the end of the 1950s in a magazine called Eiga Hihyo (”Film Criticism”) tells us a lot about the tendency then. That’s why questions about where you work or what kind of genre you worked in were really secondary or tertiary issues.
Gerow: When at you look at the style of Mothers (”Hahatachi,” 1967), your film after Song of the Stones, it does not seem to be as radical a work as your previous films.
Matsumoto: That’s true. At the time of Song of the Stones, I was being hung out to dry by the industry and couldn’t make any films. That’s why I made a couple projects for TV at the beginning of the 1960s. In those days, television stations had not yet established their own televisual cultural codes, so artists from outside the TV industry like Terayama Shuji, Tanikawa Shuntaro, and the late Abe Kobo and Inoue Mitsuharu had opportunities to make single programs. The Song of Stones was like that, but I had trouble with the station afterwards over what the style should have been. Soon it was like I was prohibited from entering any studio and this inability to make either films or TV programs continued for about three and a half years. With no other options, I directed theater with the Gekidan Seihai for a while.
That meant Mothers was my first chance to shoot a film in a long time. If I caused trouble again, I would probably have never made a film again. Well, that being the case, the premise was that I wouldn’t do anything excessive. Furthermore, the sponsor asked me to make something that would win an award at a foreign film festival. I couldn’t promise it would win a prize, because that was up to others, but I did start off by saying that I didn’t want them to get unreasonably involved in the content since films with a chance of winning were those that did not smell like sponsored films. If they left it up to me for now, I would make a good film with common appeal that had potential to win an award. But if I then went overboard with a radical style, it would have probably been hard to win an award. In that sense, I told myself not to rush things, that I first had to reestablish myself in the film world. So what I made was a lyrical, easy-to-understand film in the style of a cine poem.
But in terms of the period, I did treat issues like the Vietnam War and discrimination against blacks, taking the point of view of mothers and children around the world and making a film where the contradictions between East and West, North and South, rose to the fore. Luckily–I don’t know if you can say that–the result was that it took the grand prize at the 1967 Venice International Documentary Film Festival. So I at least kept my promise, and in fact it did give me the opportunity to make other films like Funeral of Roses (”Bara no soretsu,” 1968). Or For My Crushed Right Eye (”Tsuburekakatta migime no tame ni,” 1968), which used three projectors and, I remember, was shown at the Yamagata Film Festival. Well, if Mothers hadn’t won an award, I couldn’t have moved off in that direction.
Gerow: I was very impressed with For My Crushed Right Eye when I saw it at the YIDFF’93, especially the challenging aspects of its form. It seemed to depict less an object than an era. Just what did 1968 or the 1960s mean to you? And how did you try to express that in film?
Matsumoto: You’re right. Looking back on the 1960s as a whole, I think it was the most significant period of change in the 20th century alongside the 1920s. It was, more than anything else, a paradigm shift in ways of seeing and thinking, in sensibility and values. This was true of everything including art and documentary; all the old standards had become invalid. I think the fact many did not switch to a new framework produced a suffocating sense of oppression not only in Japan, but elsewhere in the world as well. That’s why campus protests sparked by the Nanterre branch of the University of Paris in 1968 spread throughout the world like wildfire. I think the fact that these interlocking kinds of phenomena radiated out internationally must have reflected some synchronic essence. In the end, then, within the framework of the wartime and postwar structure, a new, unconstricted state of things manifested itself in many areas and generated conflict. It was this age of structural diastrophism that was the 1960s. There were great social and political transformations, but the question of values was enormous as well, one which I believe extended to the fields of culture and the arts.
The greatest harvest amidst all this was that the fact that everything is part of an institutional system became extremely clear. That means, for instance, that the way of looking at things changes according to the point of view–that it isn’t determined from the start. For example, even the law of perspective in painting is a mode of perceiving space formulated by a way of looking at things established during a certain socio-historical turning point in the West; it becomes obvious that it, too, is an institutional system. In that way, even modes and forms of expression in art, including cinema, were in the end seen as being created institutionally . In fact, when the system loses momentum, these forms become naturalized; the process by which art begins to look natural when custom or inertia becomes a fixed norm is itself a system.
Anyway, that’s how I started to think. And also about how to devour this system. As a political problem, the system is not only the power that oppresses people in this or that a way or visible forms of political repression. Power is also what systematizes our thought, feelings, art, and culture in invisible ways. If we don’t become aware of this and shake its foundations, we cannot move the structure of power in a real sense. That’s why, after an immediate postwar period in which things were largely put into motion by the direct collision of the political dynamics of authority vs. anti-authority, we came to be controlled by more invisible things like human consciousness, feelings, points of view, or values. I thought that the most pressing issue facing art was how to become aware of this and work to undermine the system as a form of customary inertia. Films that startle and arouse self-awareness of that kind of internal distortion change the condition of cinema itself–this I think is art’s form of struggle against authority. In that sense, there is an immeasurable significance to the fact not just film, but the 1960s avant-garde art movement in general impelled the de-systemization of artistic expression, artists, viewers, and the visual culture system as a whole, including the condition of initially being completely unaware of responsibility for the war that I first problematized. Well, the disposition towards systemization is deeply rooted, so this issue has stayed with us until today without easy resolution.
Gerow: Afterwards you moved into fiction feature films beginning with Funeral of Roses, which I saw recently. At that time a lot of directors coming out of especially Iwanami Productions such as Kuroki Kazuo and Higashi Yoichi were entering the fiction film world. You also did, but what problems did you face when you started making feature films after your experience in documentary or experimental film?
Matsumoto: Yes, the first one was Funeral of Roses which was released in 1969, but it was not as if I was thinking at the time that I wanted to switch to fiction films or be able to work in commercial cinema. On the contrary, given that the general, commodified form of cinema was the one molded by the conventional world of custom and inertia, I never wanted to become a professional studio director. However, the sense in my case was that, because I wanted to make a kind of experimental, dramatic film that had not existed before, I was provocatively raiding the fiction film world as a guerrilla. Thus in this project, my creative intent was to disturb the perceptual schema of a dualistic world dividing fact from fiction, men from women, objective from subjective, mental from physical, candidness from masquerade, and tragedy from comedy. Of course the subjects I took up were gay life and the student movement–since it was made around the same time as For My Crushed Right Eye, the material is probably similar. But in terms of form, I dismantled the sequential, chronological narrative structure and arranged past and present, reality and fantasy on temporal axes as in a cubist painting, adopting a fragmented, collage-like form that quoted from literature, theater, painting, and music old and new from both East and West.
While I was not clearly conscious of it at the time, this effort connects with the concept of the postmodern that appeared later. In a sense, this kind of rejection of the ordered and arranged world of the dualistic law of perspective I am talking about is a way to start bringing modernity into question. Moving in that direction, the modern in my case breaks down on one level of the fiction at the point it is fully analyzed. More than criticizing the modern on the basis of the premodern, the concept in Funeral of Roses was to advance and rupture it by investigating it thoroughly.
Those were the days of furious political struggles over the US-Japan Security Treaty renewal in 1970, so I was criticized considerably for making this kind of film. I was denounced, but in my mind, I did not want to aim for a message about the 1970 Security Treaty, but rather throw forth my premonitions about much larger movements in the earth’s crust, in the values and modes of perception of the world that would undermine modernity itself.
Gerow: Speaking of the postmodern, perhaps we can say that if the problem in the early 1960s was that left-wing films up until then focused on the external world without problematizing their own internal subjectivity, then in the postmodern era, especially in Japan, we see the opposite case with the rise of diary or personal films. It is as if the definition of the problem itself has changed. That is, and this is a criticism I sometimes hear, these personal films, instead of striving for the kind of integration of the external and internal worlds you theorized, are now excessively centered on interiority.
Matsumoto: I think that’s so. That’s why, even though I do accord importance to these kinds of private diary films as a form of subjective documentary, I don’t make them myself. One reason is the existence of the traditional “I-novel” or “watakushi shosetsu” in Japan and the danger that these films will connect with that kind of closed-off individuality. If they relate to it in a bad way, it will submerge them in a closed world lacking an Other similar to that of otaku.5 I wonder if this trend has not reached a limit. Certainly, individuality originally gained importance in the sense it opposed the “private” to the kind of coded and institutionalized “public” I just discussed. I support confronting this uniform public with individuality in order to destroy a homogenized public, but it disturbs me when this individuality becomes that of an otaku. That’s one reason. The other reason relates to the “I” found in Descartes’s “I think therefore I am,” the “I” in a modernist cogito establishing an independent self through opposition with the world. Well, there are problems with an “I” which doesn’t doubt its “self” and the so-called “I-films” (watakushi eiga) share those: they never put their “I” in question. Since they don’t attempt to relativize themselves through a relationship with the external world, they gradually become self-complete–a pre-established harmony. Fidelity to this self-identical self is connected to something like the modern myth of individuality. In that sense, they are extremely over-optimistic. This trend itself stabilized years ago and has become just another system.
Gerow: If you compare your works after the 1960s with those sixties films, what kind of transformations do you perceive? There is, for instance, the issue of technology with the introduction of new equipment like video.
Matsumoto: I already had my eyes on technology at the time very few people were using it because it was a part of what was external to the “self” I just talked about, something that had not been touched by human consciousness. I was fascinated by the dynamic possibility that this unknown externality, this interaction of man and machine, could rupture the modern world of the self. But cinema itself was that way from the beginning. With forms like the novel, you read each word and line of the manuscript over and over again, such that consciousness commands everything. But with film, especially with documentary, there’s more of a chance that information will accidentally appear from beyond consciousness and that a tension will be generated by the filmmaker instantly reacting to that. In that process, the framework of the self begins to waver and expand, which is something that technology also causes. However, in the last ten years or so, visual technology has so rapidly developed that everyone including the neighbor’s cat is absorbed in the “effect syndrome.” So I’ve now turned my back on this homogenizing phenomenon.
If you ask what I’ve been doing, if I can use the case of Dogra Magra (”Dogura magura,”1988), I’ve shifted my focus to experiments in context, experiments in deconstructing the contextual system through which people give meaning to or interpret the world. When people create an image of the world inside themselves, they do that through a story. They always narrativize the world. Perception is shaped in the form “X is Y,” and that descriptive form is, in the end, a narrative. That won’t change as along as human beings have language. But the problem is that this way of forming a context is conventionalized and easily confines the relationship between one’s self and the world to a stable law of perspective. For instance, when people are given more than one item of information, they associatively create a story out of the relationships between those items. There’s a part of a game show where they show an image bit by bit and you have to guess what it is, like a picture of Tokyo Tower or the L’Arc de Triomphe. In that case, people try to compare and interpret that partial information with narratives that they know. That method gets stuck in a mold and knowledge only begins to flow through inert conduits.
We have to do more to irritate and disturb modes of perception, thinking, or feeling that have become automatized in this way. I did several kinds of experiments from the 1970s to the 1980s that de-automatized the visual field. But when image technology progresses such that you can make any kind of image, people become visually used to that. That’s why there’s not much left today with a fresh impact. In this way, the problem is that the interpretive structure of narrating, giving meaning to, or interpreting the world has become so thoroughly systematized that one cannot conceive of anything else that is largely untouched. We have to de-systematize that.
Dogra Magra gives viewers the slip when they think they have it figured out, and when they change their perception and think they understand it, it again overturns that. It spins audiences around from one thing to another–it’s neither this nor that. People judge what something is based on their experience, knowledge, and memory. But since that film’s hero has lost his memory, he cannot establish his identity. The spectator also identifies with the flow of the lead character’s consciousness and is spun about with him. I hope that through that experience of being spun around, people will realize how they perceive things.
Gerow: Through this method, perhaps people then lose their conventional or rational forms of perceiving reality and perhaps confront what you described in Eizo no hakken as “naked reality.” Do you feel this kind of technique has at all been influenced by surrealism?
Matsumoto: The influence is probably great, since I was significantly influenced by surrealism in my youth.
Gerow: I wonder if another possible influence is that of early Russian Formalism. According to Shklovsky’s version, art is a means of overturning habitual perceptions of the world and revealing a reality we don’t normally see.
Matsumoto: That’s certainly the case. I learned from Russian Formalism the proposition that one can de-automatize the perception of things through the technique of defamiliarization. Afterwards, of course, all this synthesizes with theory from the last half of the 20th century as well as with various experiences, knowledges, and memories of art, but I think that the spirit of surrealism and Russian formalism which formed the starting point of my early self-formation still leave some deep traces.

Editor’s notes
1. Screened at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival ‘91.
2. Screened at YIDFF ‘93.
3. Screened at YIDFF ‘93.
4. Matsumoto Toshio, Eizo no hakken: Avan-gyarudo to dokyumentari (Tokyo: San’ichi Shobo, 1963). Eizo no hakken was one of the most influential pieces of writing on film in Japan in the 1960s.
5. A new Japanese word referring to people so obsessed with an area of interest it tends to take over their entire lives. One image is of computer “nerds” who are socially inept and introverted, but it can also refer to young people devoted to comic books, guns, video games, etc.- UbuWeb

“I am the wound and the knife!
I am the lash and the cheek…”
-– from Charles Baudelaire’s “L’Héautontimorouménos” (collected in Les Fleurs du mal, 1857).1
Funeral Parade of Roses is a dense and complex testament to the alignment of the historical machinations, filmic, political, and personal, that reached a fever point in the Summer of 1968. It is the child of a rich moment in history where all of the art forms commingled in an incredibly free playing field. It initially reflects the unique mix of aesthetics drawn from Matsumoto Toshio’s early work with Jikken-Kobo (Experimental Workshop), a group formed in 1951 dedicated to new ideas in interdisciplinary art. Among its members were painters, photographers, multimedia artist Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, composers Takemitsu Toru and Yuasa Joji, and, freshly graduated from the art department of Tokyo University, a young Matsumoto. It was here that he worked on his first film, the promotional short Bicycle (Ginrin, 1955), a bold hybrid made in collaboration with Takemitsu and Yamaguchi. But how did a young cinephile such as Matsumoto navigate through these different methods of filmmaking and the rapidly changing social and political landscape of a post-World War II Japan to arrive at Funeral Parade of Roses? This is the backstory to Matsumoto’s film, a condensed timeline for a timeless story.
From the beginning, Japanese major film studios held a strong grip on production and distribution, usually owning the theatres as well. By the early 1920s some directors had started their own production companies, such as Kinugasa Teinosuke, who made his still famous A Page of Madness (Kurutta ippeji) in 1926. While Kinugasa may have set out on his own for artistic reasons, financial considerations were also a concern. Popular actors also formed their own companies to hold more control over material and receive a larger percentage of the profits. This is not to imply there were cracks forming in the foundation of the studio system, as it was still necessary for independents to licence films to them for distribution purposes.
Standing further outside were films financed by the burgeoning socialist and communist movements in Japan. These studios, best known under the name “Proletarian Film League,” were primarily interested in advocating their concerns in union and labour struggles. The rise of communist sympathies in Japan would play an important part in encouraging the Japanese New Wave cinema of the 1960s.
By the end of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, which accelerated the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and the Bolshevik Revolution, Japan had secured a foothold in Korea and Taiwan. The peace treaty between the two, negotiated by US President Theodore Roosevelt, was seen by many in Japan as an insult. It granted them less land rights and little if any of the monetary reparations expected. This perceived slight was only magnified after Japan’s collaboration with Allied forces during World War I. By the end of the war, American policy towards Japan had become increasingly combative, making an effort to influence the British Government, who had a long history of collaboration with the Japanese Navy, to follow suit. This increasing slight from Western powers, who had, relatively speaking, only recently been accepted into Japan, laid the groundwork for the continuation of Japan’s territorial ambitions. By 1932 a puppet government was established in Japan-occupied Manchuria (Manchukuo), and in 1937 troops moved into China proper, starting a war which would last into World War II.2
In 1934, communism was outlawed by the Japanese government, effectively bringing an end to the independent production companies such as the PFL, casting out or even imprisoning many filmmakers, writers, teachers and others sympathetic with the left. The larger film companies also found themselves hampered by mandatory submission to a censor board regulated by the Army and Navy Ministries, which strictly promoted the ideals of the traditional family and the value of sacrifice for the country. The influence of imported films with their ideas of individualism and the continuing prevalence of what were called “modern girls”? (moga, the Japanese equivalent of flappers) were to be suppressed. Imports of American films were severely curtailed and with the passage of the “Film Law”? in 1939, everyone who worked in the film industry, from entry-level assistants to leading actors and actresses, was required to be tested for competency and licenced. By the early 1940s they were required by the law to consolidate under an umbrella of major film companies which included Shochiku, Toho, and Daiei.
The effect of the Occupation at the end of World War II fills volumes of books, and while it is difficult to even scratch the surface here, it is important to note the profound effect it had on Matsumoto’s generation of filmmakers. The changes required by the peace settlement pulled the roots out from under innumerable layers of society. Religious and political persecution during the previous era was rescinded and communists, Christians, Marxists and others flooded back into the population. The major studios, already financially strapped, now had conflicts with the newly emboldened unions with strong leftist sympathies. These conflicts grew to such an extent that, for example, military forces had to be called in to assist, as in the Toho strike of 1949.
By the end of the 1940s the Allied forces refocused their energies on the growing power of Russia and China. Leftist sympathisers, who were only recently seen as emancipated political prisoners, were again under duress. Conflicts with the labour unions, growing problems with the Zengakuren (the umbrella organisation for college student government groups) as well as the American government’s own shifting priorities resulted in a sweeping anti-communist purge in all levels of society. In the film industry, technicians, composers, writers and directors lost their jobs, forcing many of them to look towards other means in order to continue working. Many of these films were funded in part by labour unions or even the Communist Party itself, and had to be independently distributed, sometimes by Hokusei Eiga, which was primarily a distributor for films from the Soviet Union. Some of these films could still find their way into mainstream cinemas, as many major studios, still under the pressure of union strife, could not keep up the rate of production needed to fill their screens. Assistant directors were promoted to help speed production, setting the stage for what is generally now called Japan’s New Wave. At Nikkatsu, Suzuki Seijun and Imamura Shohei were given their start, and at Shochiku, Oshima Nagisa, Shinoda Masahiro, and Yoshida Yoshishige began with great promise. But by the mid-1960s all three had left Shochiku under acrimonious circumstances, most famously when Oshima’s Night and Fog in Japan (Nihon no yoru to kiri, 1960), a drama that investigated the moral and political differences between two generations of leftists, was withdrawn from distribution after only a few days. Although the three organised their own production companies, they still relied on the studios for distribution. It was purportedly a time of sweeping change, but the traces of the recent past would prove to be indelible. This uneasy balancing act of the past and present is personified in the conflicting character of Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, who had a long and controversial career in politics. During World War II, Kishi was Minister of Commerce and Industry under Prime Minister Tojo Hideki, and fully involved in the activities in Manchuria. At the end of the war, Kishi was tried and convicted as a war criminal, resulting in his barring from public service as accorded by the Allied forces. In 1952, this restriction was lifted and Kishi began the second wave of his political career in the Democratic Party, a forerunner of the Liberal Democratic Party. It was this changing political and artistic landscape that would make Matsumoto question his own nascent work as a documentary filmmaker.
In an interview with Aaron Gerow, Matsumoto said: “Even literature and art were wrapped around the little finger of the state during the war. Well, the people who made national propaganda films collaborating with the war effort made an about-face when America arrived after the war and in a blink of the eye began making democratic movies. That was strange because filmmakers did that without going through a stage of internal conflict, without exposing their own responsibility for the war. Both during and after the war, they made films according to the dominant trends in society or government without thoroughly investigating their own position within this. In the film world in particular, people didn’t independently pursue their own wartime responsibility. The kind of character that’s able to immediately make democratic movies while feigning ignorance about the past is what ruined postwar Japanese cinema. That’s why, even in terms of the problem of realism, there was no difference between the realism of militarist films fanning war sentiment and the realism of postwar democratic motion pictures. Only the topic or subject changed.”3
Matsumoto initially made documentary films for Shin Riken Cinema, one of many studios dedicated to the form. He soon started an organisation called the “Association of Documentary Filmmakers”? and published the highly polemical magazine Documentary Film (Kiroku-eiga). Producers such as Shin Riken and Iwanami Productions would prove to be auspicious places for this new generation of filmmakers to begin their careers. Matsumoto worked through all levels of production, a relatively liberal education that encouraged him to reconcile his own concerns through documentary films.4
In his student days, Matsumoto had been inspired by the revelations of Italian neorealist and avant-garde films and he searched for a way to fuse his seemingly disparate interests. This contrast, and his thoughts on their ability to coexist is especially enlightening in the context of the form of Funeral Parade of Roses. In his interview with Gerow, Matsumoto spoke of his attempts to bring the two together: “Both were extremely fascinating to me, but that’s where problems arose. Although I found the freedom of avant-garde’s uninhibited, imaginative world extremely attractive, it had the tendency to get stuck in a closed world. Documentaries, on the other hand, while intensely related to reality, would not really thoroughly address internal mental states and were so dependent upon their temporal contexts they would look old-fashioned if their temporal context changed. I wondered whether the point of collision between the limitations and strong points of the two forms could not pose a new set of topics for cinema.”5
His early work with Jikken-Kobo would prove to be influential, as Matsumoto collaborated again with Takemitsu on his documentary The Song of Stones (Ishi no uta, 1963). This film, about stone cutters in Shikoku, was a radical shift in Matsumoto’s documentary work, closer to a tone poem than to straightforward documentation. The synergy between music, space, movement and stillness was a subtle but radical synthesis of Matsumoto’s stylistic and aesthetic experiences. Soon, the influence of the world pounding on art’s walls would prove to be unavoidable.
In 1960, with the impending renegotiation of US occupation (the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, better known by its Japanese shorthand name “ANPO”) protest grew to a feverish pitch. The Zengakuren sieged Haneda airport to prevent Prime Minister Kishi from flying to the US, and while it did not prevent the flight, the press coverage was considerable. By this time the group had nearly severed ranks with the socialist democratic and communist parties, disagreeing bitterly over the worth of political versus direct action. In June of 1960, the Zengakuren opted to attack the Diet Building in an assault that would result in the death of student Kanba Michiko, who would stand as a martyr-symbol for years to come. A further protest at Narita made a blunder of White House press secretary James Haggerty’s trip to prepare for President Dwight Eisenhower’s forthcoming visit. Although Prime Minister Kishi was forced to delay Eisenhower’s already highly contentious visit, the treaty was renewed in 1960.
With the rise of the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966, passions were further inflamed on campuses throughout Japan. During the next few years, the Zengakuren fractured and split into factions with varying degrees of allegiance to the Communist Party. What had previously been a face of unity dispersed into various concerns such as the American bases in Okinawa. Their possible use as a base of operations for American expansion into Vietnam implicitly involved Japan in military action, something it had been forbidden from under the terms of the peace treaty. Student-government organisations continued physical confrontations with university officials at Tokyo’s Keio and Waseda Universities, amongst many others, as well as recruitment for the growing resistance to the expansion of Narita Airport, infringing on the land rights of farmers. At first they received overwhelming support from the general public for their physical confrontations with construction workers, but by 1968, the time of the filming of Funeral Parade of Roses, US nuclear aircraft carriers were docking in Okinawa and involvement at the student protests even included high school children. By this time the early public support for these actions had begun to wane, as continuing violence both on campus and in urban areas had begun to wear out their welcome with many who were now just wanting to move on with their lives. In Funeral Parade of Roses the interviewed student protester seems almost like an outlaw, on the run from a society that just does not want to hear from students anymore.
Theatre groups also began to make a break from their past traditions. Many took their productions to alternative locations, such as Kara Juro’s “Situation Theatre,” which used its red tent to move from place to place (This group, as well as its tent, are featured prominently in Oshima’s Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (Shinjuku dorobo nikki, 1968)). Legendary playwright Terayama Shuji would also explore similar confrontational methods with his Sajiki Tenjo group, many times treating the audience as trapped victims. This street-theatre also overlapped with the growing movement of Fluxus related artists such as Genpei Akasegawa (Hi-Red Centre) and the Zero Jigen (Zero Dimension) group, whose discordant “happenings” can be seen scattered throughout Funeral Parade of Roses. The group was started in Nagoya by Kato Yoshihiro and Iwata Shinichi who soon became infamous for their “ceremonies,” as they chose to call them. Moving to Tokyo, their performances were noted for their nudity and unabashed confrontation with shoppers in the major neighbourhoods of Shinjuku, Ginza, and Shibuya. While generally ignored or even attacked by contemporary art criticism, Zero Jigen did find itself regularly chronicled in newspapers and magazines, usually under racy headlines likening them to “orgies” or “porn parties.” Unlike this inflammatory rhetoric, Zero Jigen created situations that were more in sympathy to the “ritualistic” concerns of many artists of the time, replacing overt political or literary references with a series of interchangeable movements, props, and heavy use of repetition.
Experimental film, which reaches back to the roots of Matsumoto’s early fascinations, and the new generation which was embracing the then-new video medium, is personified in “Guevera,” a critical hybrid of the many different movements that formed the underground. These activities were led in Japan by such filmmaker/artists as Iimura Takahiko and Katsuhiro and coalesced in events such as the important “Tokyo-New York Video Express” of 1974, which brought together many interdisciplinary artists such as Paik Nam June, Kubota Shigeko, Woody and Steina Vasulka, Michael Snow, Kosugi Takehisa, and even Allen Ginsberg. The electronic manipulation of television in Guevera’s film invokes the work of Paik, Yamaguchi, and Matsumoto himself, and the statement “But you must feel something with your body” makes an allusion to the growth of “system” or “structuralist” films that were concurrent to the rise of video/television art. Snow’s Wavelength (1967) and Tony Conrad’s The Flicker (1966) were two of the most internationally known films that explored the actual physical effect of time, light, and space on the viewer’s sense of consciousness, and was readily co-opted by many as an accessory to “mind-expansion.” Matsumoto himself would later make several films using his footage from Funeral Parade of Roses’ “experimental film.” In the background of these scenes you can also see the requisite poster for Terayama and Sajiki’s Rope (Jun) designed by Yokoo Tadanori. Just these scenes alone demonstrate the incredible commingling of the rebirth of all of the arts, and their cohabitation.
Another element of “underground culture” (angura) is referenced through Eddie’s participation in a pornographic film shoot, which not only heightens the complex “reality / fiction” structure of the film, but also makes a contemporary reference to the rise of underground pornography. The director in this scene is Matsumoto, who despite not making such films himself, was related in spirit to many of the new wave of pornographic, or “pink”, filmmakers. Directors found increasingly creative ways to skirt the censor, and due to its incredible revolving door production schedule and high demand for product, pornography was one of the easiest ways for a young filmmaker to get his hands on a camera. This open door policy allowed filmmakers with political and avant-garde interests (such as Adachi Masao); beefs with authority (such as Wakamatsu Koji); and highly analytical and theoretical writers (such as Yamatoya Atsushi) the latitude to create films, albeit on incredibly small budgets, in an environment that was previously closed to them. These three filmmakers are of special interest in the context of Funeral Parade of Roses, as they also worked with ATG (Art Theatre Guild), who would fund and release Matsumoto’s film, and become a nexus for the zeitgeist of the late 1960s. Adachi (also involved with Hi-Red Centre) and Yamatoya (maybe best known in the West for his work on Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (Koroshi no rakuin, 1967)) represented the talent that was coming from “film study groups” at various universities, and they, like Matsumoto, were filmmakers who had their fingers on the increasing pulse of unrest in Japan. There was collusion with other directors like Oshima (Adachi for example co-wrote Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and participated in the ATG film, Oshima’s brilliant farce Death by Hanging (Koshikei, 1968)). Wakamatsu and Adachi’s masterpiece Ecstasy of the Angels (Tenshi no kokotsu, 1972, also for ATG) is another film, like Funeral Parade of Roses which timelessly manifested this moment of critical mass.
Doubtless, most pink film production was for the purpose of profit, and these efforts would become accepted into the mainstream as part of Nikkatsu’s “pink film” (pinku eiga) and the “pinky violence” films that were released primarily by the Toei studio. One popular Toei series was the “sukeban” films. A “sukeban” is the leader of a girl gang (dropouts, ne’er do wells, etc), and Funeral Parade of Roses features such a gang, sent out to rough up Eddie. The sequence both mimics and satirises their mannerisms, and while it would be a bit much to say that Matsumoto made the first “sukeban” short, he seems to have been a few years ahead of the curve!
It becomes apparent that all of these disparate movements seemed to share a central hub, and geographically that was East Shinjuku, a convergence of all that was outside the lines. The intermingling of all the arts was not only an aesthetic choice, but the reality of everyone being drawn to one small area, filled with old style coffee shops (kissaten), hippies, galleries, bars (both gay and otherwise), protesters, expatriates of every stripe, musicians, filmmakers, writers, philosophers, and of course police. It was the most contaminated of petri dishes, and that means culture. It was here that the ATG was born. I will concede here to the accompanying text by Roland Domenig to more fully expand on the importance of the ATG, and how it was not only a child of the history above, but the new beginning of one of Japan’s most brilliant eras of film. 
1 The original French reads: “Je suis la plaie et le couteau! / Je suis le soufflet et la joue…”
2 Even today, what to call this war, or even to call it such, is a continuing source of tension between China and Japan.
3 Matsumoto Toshio (1996) interviewed by Aaron Gerow in Documentary Box_ 9 (December 31).
4 Also working at Iwanami was Suzuki Tatsuo, who would later serve as cinematographer on Funeral Parade of Roses. It was common at Iwanami to use a tripod-mounted camera, in part for aesthetic reasons, and also because handheld cameras at that time were still cumbersome and noisy. Suzuki, however, became well known for his incredibly reliable and elegant hand-held camerawork and mastery of telescopic lenses. In his earlier feature films, such as Yoshida’s A Story Written with Water_ (Mizu de kakareta monogatari, 1965) and Kuroki Kazuo’s Silence Has No Wings_ (Tobenai chinmoku, 1966), Suzuki’s handling of the similar themes explored in Matsumoto’s film are enlightening.
5 Matsumoto Toshio (1996). - by Jim O’Rourke

Looking back at it from the light of the early twenty-first century, one of the most astonishing things about Funeral Parade of Roses is just how little seen it has been. This in itself is something of an enigma. It's not like the title is unknown outside of Japan, having been pretty extensively discussed in books like David Desser's Eros Plus Massacre and Noel Burch's To the Distant Observer. But I was really amazed given its international reputation to learn that Eureka's DVD release actually represents the first of any kind for the foreign home video market. One can only hope that the belated rectification of this grave oversight will serve in some degree to hoist its director Toshio Matsumoto's name up to a higher level on the totem pole of internationally visible filmmaking greats than it hitherto has been and lead to more widespread releases of his other films. Because on the evidence of this kaleidoscopic view of Tokyo's vibrant gay countercultural scene of the late 1960s, his work represents something of an undiscovered treasure trove for the Western viewer.
Just to put the name into context, Matsumoto was born in Nagoya in 1932 and rose to become one of the key players in the early Japanese experimental scene with short films like Silver Ring (Ginrin, 1955), the 18-minute documentary on the renewal of the US-Japan security pact Ampo Jouyaku (1959), 300 Ton Trailer (1959), Record of a Long Wide Line (Shiroi Nagai Suji no Kiroku, 1960) and Magnetic Scramble (1968). Many of these early works have been recently made available for the first time in Japan in the three-volume box-set Toshio Matsumoto Experimental Film Works 1961-1987.
Funeral Parade of Roses is his first feature-length work, and was made possible through the support of the Art Theatre Guild, who produced and distributed the film. Though the following decades have seen Matsumoto continuing to practice within the fields of experimental cinema and video installation, subsequent theatrical features, which include Pandemonium (Shura, 1971), A 16-Year-Old's War (Juroku-sai no Senso, 1972) and Dogura Magura (1988), have been rather thin on the ground.
The experimental background is very much in evidence in his first feature. Trying to explain the pleasures of such a scrambled impressionistic piece as Funeral Parade of Roses in plot terms is a pretty fruitless exercise, although the disjointed narrative does reach fever pitch in the latter moments, with developments inspired by the ancient legend of Oedipus Rex so succinctly described in the dark ditty written by 50s American singer/satirist/maths professor Tom Lehrer: 'There once lived a man called Oedipus Rex / You must have heard about his odd complex / His name appears in Freud's index / Because he loved his mother ...'
Those aware of the mythological underpinnings of Freudian theory might have some inkling as what to expect in the gruesome closing scenes. While these in themselves go some way in giving those attempting to sum up the essence of this work in a few choice phrases something to hang their hats on, the net effect of the film is considerably more substantial than such a dime-store Freudian denouement might suggest.
This is as much due to the freak charismas of those in front of the camera as the talent of the director behind it. Admirably carrying the main weight of the drama on his shoulders among a cast predominantly made up of non-professionals and counter-cultural mini-celebrities is a player known solely as Peter. According to an incredibly youthful looking Matsumoto on the on-disk interview, he was scouted especially for the part while working as a transvestite bar hostess in Roppongi. One can immediately see how he caught the filmmaker's eye: Peter, who subsequently played the Fool in Akira Kurosawa's Ran and turned up in several other films during the 70s (the most familiar mainstream appearance perhaps being the 1970 entry of the long-running Shintaro Katsu series Zatoichi, Fire Festival), certainly has all the right moves, not to mention a doe-eyed vulnerability and the ability to project a potently polymorphous form of sensuality that belies his gender. It would be difficult to imagine the film with anyone else in his high heels. In the role of the androgynous bar worker Eddie, Peter wrestles with inner demons while jostling for the affections of drug-dealing cabaret-manager Gonda (Tsuchiya; one of the few professionals in the cast with several roles behind him in Kurosawa films such as The Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood) with rival cross-dresser Reda (Ogasawara) and taking centre stage in a documentary being made about Tokyo's gay culture.
The story really remains only a ruse for a work that is best seen as a fascinating reflection of a long-vanished place and time, caught in a cross-current of international pop-cultural styles and influences and not dissimilar to what was going on in similar circles in other far-flung parts of the world. The colourful underground milieu, populated by a rag-tag collection of cross-dressers, bohemians, druggies and drop-outs, bares easy comparisons with the environment fostered by Andy Warhol and his disciples at his Factory studio in New York - at one point the American underground film scene is explicitly mentioned when one of the characters quotes Jonas Mekas (though another has to correct the mispronunciation of Mekas' name.) The exuberant costumes and pop-art sensibilities recall all the excesses of the European swinging 60s scene as celebrated in William Klein's kitsch cult oddity Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966), and it is rumoured that Matsumoto's false-eyelashed protagonists served as the inspiration for Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Finally the experimental melange of dramatised sequences and documentary footage assembled in a cocktail of freeze frames, onscreen text, sped-up sequences, solarised or over-exposed shots, distorted wavering news footage filmed directly from TV and stroboscopic cross-cuts immediately puts one in mind of the French New Wave.
I offer these foreign examples primarily as descriptive points of reference. While Matsumoto readily acknowledges the early impact of nouvelle vague director Alain Resnais on his work, Funeral Parade of Roses amounts to much, much more than the sum of its influences. And anyway, though its focus on experimental filmmaking technique is very much in keeping many of the other films produced by the Art Theatre Guild - typically those of Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, Masahiro Shinoda, Susumu Hani and Kiju Yoshida - Matsumoto's film never quite seems like the dry meta-textual exercise in formalism of some of his contemporaries. It also boasts its more playful moments, for example Reda and Eddie's under-cranked showdown, alongside its more poignantly tragic dimension revealed through flashbacks to Eddie's traumatic fatherless childhood.
The usual exemplary abundance of extras on Eureka's release should remove any lingering questions about the how, when, where, and why of the film's production. Matsumoto himself is on hand to provide a 23-minute interview and a feature-length commentary concerning the making of the film. In the essay booklet, musician and Japanese film aficionado Jim O'Rourke charts the historical and cultural circumstances leading up to Tokyo's Summer of 69 when the youth movement came of age, while Roland Domenig of the University of Vienna provides the low-down on the Art Theatre Guild production-distribution-exhibition system that revitalised Japanese cinema in the 60s by making works such as these possible. (Domenig was responsible for organising an exhaustive retrospective of the works of the Art Theatre Guild at the Viennale in 2003.) The only (minor) disappointment is that Eureka couldn't track down any of the original cast for interviews, but this is slight nitpicking.
Would that the film itself were so easy to ensnare in words. Never mind. Heavily redolent of the era in which it was made, this is a work whose striking images will remain etched in your brain a long time after they've faded from the screen. It is one you'll want to keep coming back to, providing plenty to discuss and ponder upon between viewings. -

Sex and violence… sex and violence…. Sex and violence. Sex and violence.
So goes the constant refrain of one the catchier vacuous ditties by Britain’s drunkard punk outfit The Exploited – titled, of course, “Sex and Violence.” If taken seriously – against The Exploited’s general intent, I’m sure – the song is something of a commentary on both the demand for and constant co-existence of sex and violence in society today. But the song also reminds us that The Exploited weren’t the brightest bunch of Brits in 1980s punk rock;1 by merely intoning “sex” and “violence” until the very words lose meaning, the track itself loses whatever meaningful intention it might have had. Like all ingrained social mores, it stays in your head and refuses to leave. As a joke, it’s a cheap one; as commentary, it’s a dumb reaction against perceived Puritanism.
In truth, sex and violence have been central to society for as god knows how long – just ask Oedipus. Or better yet, ask Japanese director Toshio Matsumoto about Oedipus. In 1967, at least fifteen years before The Exploited and halfway across the globe from England, the film director fashioned a funnier, sexier, more violent – and infinitely smarter – take on sex and violence, Funeral Parade of Roses. Criminally obscure, it’s never been released in the U.S. on home video, and came to the West on DVD thanks only to the efforts of the U.K.’s Masters of Cinema. Oedipus’ mythic moment of “Oops! I did it again” provides the movie’s plot; and the film’s opening text reads like something the old man might scream in tragedy, “I am a wound and a sword; a victim and an executioner.” But otherwise, the myth – and the plot, following a queen named Eddie and a torrid love triangle at her place of employment – plays second fiddle to a discordant rock n’ roll chorus of rioting students, sexy queens, gangland girls, clubbers, hippies, and dopers, who fight, fuck, shop, dance, and mourn their way through night clubs, beauty parlors, art galleries department stores, street fights, and graveyards.
It says something about my limited frame of reference that I have a hard time relating the film to anything specific to Japan, yet immediately think of two filmmakers of the West: Jean-Luc Godard and Stanley Kubrick. Despite my own limitations, I think contrasting both filmmakers and their relationship to Funeral Parade of Roses raises essential questions about cross-cultural influence and the differences between solidarity and stealing.
The influence of Funeral Parade on Kubrick is more than duly noted – it’s downright obvious that certain scenes and style were lifted completely for A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately, Kubrick chose not to mimic the spirit nor the politics of Matsumoto’s film. While Funeral Parade is unequivocally subversive in its portrayal of Eddie and her environs, A Clockwork Orange’s Alex and his rapist band of teenagers are nothing but myopically reactionary, no matter how cool the style, and no matter how many lessons about the State wedged into that film’s final act.
Kubrick’s taking from Matusmoto is all funeral, no roses; in that sense, until clues as to Kubrick’s intentions are provided to me, it seems a crime. And yet, not all cross-cultural exchange is essentially theft. In The Imagination of the New Left, radical scholar George Katsiaficas argues that the struggles of the Sixties exhibited an “eros effect,” a global escalation of struggles – and now I realize, considering Funeral Parade, that the same effect can be found in radical techniques in cinema. While I’m no where knowledgeable enough to know of any Japanese precedents for Funeral Parade, I do know that Godard’s influence is all over the film, unmistakably.
In one instance, Eddie emerges from her apartment, fresh from primping in preparation for a night working her job at a club, only to stumble across a student protestor, fresh from a beating by the police, passed out in her stairwell. Nursing his wounds, Eddie can’t help but ask, “Why run riot?” What good is all this violence? The camera latches onto the student and the apartment disappears; we are suddenly in his world as he lectures the audience, not unlike the garbage-workers in Godard’s Weekend. “What matters is not admission of violence, but progressiveness of your violence. And whether the violence will stop or will last forever. In order to decide don’t judge crimes of morality, which people call pure morality by mistake. Place crimes in logic and dynamics and in history, where they belong.”
The film follows the same philosophy; it progresses in a haphazard manner. Scenes appear out of order, initially confusing us, only to reappear later with new meanings and context. Genders are revealed in visual tricks, initially confusing, that bring the viewer’s own assumptions to question. The film’s drag queen stars get to contribute; often a scene will immediately cut, asking for actor’s own opinions on their role and their lives. The film even brings its own tricks into question through the guise of one Guevara, a dopy filmmaker with a collective of hippie friends who specialize in over-the-top experimental films.
In The Imagination of the New Left, Katsiaficas also writes of the Japanese student movement’s “militant but controlled use of violence, much of it appearing as play.” The same might be written of Matsumoto’s use of both sex and violence, politically and cinematically. At a time in Japan’s history when revolutionary violence was on a lot of (young) people’s minds, Funeral Parade of Roses ensured that subversive sex couldn’t be ignored. There’s some gore and plenty of booty, but thanks to the ever-present attention given politics, it is a bloody mess intentionally made, equal parts camp and counterculture.2 As an intercut television announcer exclaims in the film’s final moments, “What a composite of cruelty and laughter!”
Sure, as The Exploited insisted, “sex and violence” ought to be considered together. But more specifically, it’s a question of pleasure and politics: one is never far from the other in Funeral Parade of Roses, as when Eddie makes sweet love to an American GI on furlough from the fighting in Vietnam. It’s all well beyond shit like The Exploited; and it’s what cinema is begging for today. For the Andersons and the Tarrantinos and the Coppolas (and possibly every major horror movie released in the past five years, like the Dawn of the Dead remake, for instance) are not unlike like Kubrick – they want the style and forget the struggle animating it. What results is clever references for film buffs and conventional melodrama/coming-of-age/guns-and-girls genre films for the rest of us. They are safe because they are so accessible; they aren’t subversive or challenging for the same reason. Funerals are not without flowers; roses are not without thorns. How about some cinema that makes bloodletting meaningful again?
1: I always preferred Crass and their ilk (e.g. The Mob, Zounds, Flux of Pink Indians).
2: Making me wonder what Ed Wood’s dreadful Orgy of the Dead could have been, were he a revolutionary. Like, how would the “Gold! More gold!” sequence be different? - By Andrew

Funeral Parade of Roses takes place in, and serves as a valuable document of, the underground drag scene in late 1960s Tokyo. A confrontational, one-of-a kind work, the film is alternately gritty, arty, gory, and campy. This is a movie that could not have been made at any other time, or in any other place. But Funeral Parade of Roses is not just a celluloid time capsule; it is also a carefully crafted work of art.
The film is a retelling of Oedipus Rex, as well as a tale of backstage rivalry between two divas. The film primarily concerns a love triangle, in which the film’s protagonist, a young drag queen named Eddie, and an older drag queen named Leda, fight over the affections of a man named Gonda. Gonda is the proprietor of the Bar Genet; Leda runs the bar, and Eddie is her closest rival. Interspersed with this main narrative thread are various digressions and subplots, including a flashback to Eddie’s traumatic childhood, pseudo-documentary interview segments with the actors in the film and other drag queens, the exploits of a hippie filmmaking collective, and a few slapstick comedy sequences. The film ends tragically and gruesomely.
In his commentary track, director Toshio Matsumoto compares the film’s structure to a “mosaic.” The comparison is apt. The director breaks his scenes into tiny fragments, and then jumbles their chronological order. While each fragment is nearly incomprehensible in isolation, in the aggregate they constitute a comprehensible narrative. Although Matsumoto contends on his commentary track that there is “no significance” to how the film is structured, that clearly is not the case. As Matsumoto himself concedes at another point on the commentary track, his fragmentary technique is intended to simulate the way one can suddenly recollect a distant memory.
In addition to slicing and rearranging his narrative, Matsumoto employs a variety of other avant-garde devices, some of which were pioneered by Jean-Luc Godard. (It is probably no coincidence that, subsequent to the production of this film, Matsumoto’s assistant director translated Godard’s oeuvre into Japanese.) For example, screens of text appear at intervals throughout the film, commenting on the events and themes. (Interestingly, this device was resurrected recently by Kinji Fukasaku in his film version of Battle Royale). Also, to confront the viewer with the mechanics of the filmmaking process, many scenes are preceded by leader and/or a clapboard. To that end, a subplot of the film concerns the making of an underground film starring Eddie and the other drag queens at the Bar Genet; the viewer becomes increasingly unsure which scenes take place in the film’s main narrative and which are part of the “film within a film.”
The cinematography is just as carefully composed as the narrative. The largely handheld camerawork is remarkable; nearly every scene — even those featuring a flurry of chaotic activity — features deep focus, neatly balanced compositions, and dramatic shadow effects. The love scenes feature beautiful, high contrast, almost abstract close-ups of androgynous body parts, and are particularly breathtaking. The filmmakers even adeptly shoot several scenes on location inside a moving vehicle, whereas nearly every similar scene in mainstream Japanese films from this time period was shot in a studio using unconvincing rear projection effects.
Nonetheless, Funeral Parade of Roses is not as far removed from the mainstream Japanese film industry as one might imagine. Notably, the actor who plays Gonda, Yoshio Tsuchiya, was one of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai! Moreover, the noted director Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide, Pale Flower) has a cameo in the film, as do many other figures from the Japanese art world. While most of the other actors in the film are amateurs, Matsumoto extracts excellent performances from them; they exhibit none of the blankness or overacting that one usually associates with amateur performances in films.
Notwithstanding these performers’ taboo-bursting depictions of sexuality, significant aspects of Funeral Parade of Roses are certainly problematic to the contemporary Western viewer. Although couched in classical allusion, at bottom this is yet another tale of a miserable queen with mommy and daddy issues who is doomed to a brief and tragic existence. One wishes Matsumoto would have presented a less fatalistic tale of gay Japanese life, or at least a less stereotypical one. Further, Funeral Parade of Roses is certainly a view from the outside, not the inside, of gay and countercultural life. Tellingly, almost all of the transvestite interviewees in the film’s quasi-documentary passages are asked loaded, trick questions, such as whether they ever plan on getting married. Moreover, the film’s depiction of drug use seems naive and unconvincing; the film equates drug use with pot parties where young people go-go dance in their underwear.
Beyond go-go dancing, the film is filled with other references to Western culture: from Jean Genet to Che Guevara to the Beatles. Given these Western influences and the film’s self-consciously “underground” attitude, once cannot help but compare it to The Chelsea Girls, one of the seminal American underground films of the time. The Chelsea Girls displays a nonjudgmental empathy for its gay and drug-addled subjects that is light years beyond the lurid, violent depictions of sexuality and drug use in Funeral Parade of Roses. Nonetheless, Funeral Parade of Roses is clearly the more rewarding, entertaining and accomplished of the two works; its gorgeous deep-focus photography, complex structure and layers of references stand in sharp contrast to the repetitive, overlong and haphazardly filmed The Chelsea Girls, which is a chore to sit through and appears to require the use of chemical substances to fully appreciate. While I would never watch The Chelsea Girls again unless I were paid to do so, I could watch Funeral Parade of Roses many more times, and would probably discover new details each time I saw it.

High-concept is an Orwellian phrase when it comes to cinema, usually meaning one concept, as in one idea, which can be pitched, tag-lined and sold. And most high-concept films have a job getting that one idea off the ground. So we should celebrate this month’s screening of Funeral Parade of Roses, a film crammed with ideas, from soup to nuts. Released in 1969 and shot in black and white, the film has the temperament and daring of an underground art film, but without any of the drawbacks. The acting is uniformly excellent, from the young transsexual Eddie, played in his debut role by Pîtâ, with more than a passing resemblance to Edie Sedgwick, to a series of well-established Japanese stars (one of the samurai from The Seven Samurai no less) and TV personalities, who both play roles and appear in the film as themselves.
The story takes on the arc of an Oedipal tragedy, which sees the young Eddie quietly but tenaciously rising through the gay scene to become a madam of his own gay bar, only to subsequently suffer a horrifying downfall. There are flashbacks of a childhood trauma, but also a film within a film as a documentary is being made about the gay scene, with lots of interviews about what it means to be a queen. The tone shifts radically from breathless gay erotica to Chaplinesque knockabout comedy, Godardian reflexivity to Hitchcockian suspense. Marnie (1964) seems to have been particularly in mind, but also Psycho (1960). The speeded-up sections and the use of flash imagery and ironic music are testament to the film’s impact on Kubrick, who cited it as a direct influence on A Clockwork Orange (1971). The rush of the film makes it slippery and difficult to pin down. The attitude to homosexuality is likewise playful and evasive. On one hand, it offers a sympathetic platform for the film’s interviewees and an affectionate, if not glamorous, portrait of a scene, while on the other, it follows a tragic trajectory that sees homosexuality born of violence and trauma – the ‘death to the vagina’ murder of the mother is particularly disturbing – and heads towards an inevitably tragic dénouement. But even this cannot be safely summed up. After a particularly gruesome murder, there is a frame-breaking interview with the actor, who says he likes being in the film as ‘Gay life is portrayed beautifully’. Defying expectations at every turn, Matsumoto constantly wrong-foots his audience, starting with the opening sex scene, shot beautifully in a gleaming white image. Melodrama is undercut with irony, the detachment of the documentarian is relieved by the madcap ‘happenings’, with the camera crew apparently flinging themselves into the action with abandon. Even the tragic conclusion is not immune. Ultimately, this is a film to watch and watch again. Genuinely high-concept. - John Bleasdale

Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second is currently all things Kubrick, and Eastern Premise didn’t want to miss out on the party. Step forward Bara no soretsu, from here on in known as Funeral Parade Of Roses; an alleged favourite of Stanley Kubrick and a noticeable influence on A Clockwork Orange. To some it may seem a bizarre choice, but the film has stood the test of time and introduced its viewers to a unique gay subculture beneath a bustling 1960’s Tokyo.
Released by the incredibly influential Nihon Arts Theatre Guild and directed by Toshio Matsumoto, Funeral Parade Of Roses is his debut feature length film.  With a background in art and painting, Matsumoto started his career with avant-garde short films, documentaries and performance pieces. Even to this day Matsumoto remains relatively unknown in the West, partially due to the fact he only mustered four feature films. The main focus of his work until the early 90’s remained entrenched in the experimental genre, which is well worth investigating. Only a few years ago his debut piece Ginrin (1955) was found after being presumed lost and a Japanese DVD box set has collected several of his experimental works in one convenient release.

The inspiration for Funeral Parade of Roses is an Athenian tragedy, which Matsumoto reveals in the Masters of Cinema DVD interview, is a primary source for many of his films. Key themes from this ancient classic are brought to life with its focus on dark secrets and the bizarre. The masks that we create to shroud these secrets are highlighted during the underground art exhibition sequence in the film. This is particularly true of the charismatic Eddie, who is haunted by his past and struggles to maintain his new persona.
If we cast ourselves back to the tail end of the 1960’s it was very much a decade of change; one that would shape our own culture today. While a gay counter culture was developing in America, in Japan gays were relatively unseen and hidden away. Funeral Parade of Roses offers the first insight into their world for many not only domestically, but also internationally. Prior to its release, Japanese men were rampaging samurai or dissociated war veterans, not wonderfully dressed in female clothing and enjoying new freedoms. A perfect analogy is the casting of Yoshio Tsuchiya, previously seen in Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai; here he takes the role of Gonda; gay bar owner and lover to its most popular drag queen, Eddie.
The opening sequence is an intimate scene between Gonda and Eddie, illuminated by the stark use of white, complete with a haunting soundtrack. This could be any couple, anywhere. The precision of each shot and orientation of characters within our field of vision show the strong influence of the French New Wave and Matsumoto’s artistic background. The choice of music is brilliant and far ahead of its time. The selections are often the polar opposite of what you would expect. One intimate scene plays out to a hesitant Blackpool-esque organ accompaniment, another pitches the rapid attempt to conceal contraband against a distorted electronic deconstruction. These compositions, their style and execution would influence many filmmakers, including Stanley Kubrick.

Matsumoto’s experience with documentaries proved to be a useful tool, as the film blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. Funeral Parade Of Roses could be a fly-on-the-wall investigation; a voice from behind the camera probes scenesters and adding to the disorientating mix is the casting. The majority of roles are played by non-actors, including many just playing themselves or their real day jobs. Matsumoto relied on opinions from gay friends to cast the role of Gonda, but the search for Eddie was one that threatened the film itself. Eventually the hunt led Matsumoto and his team to a gay bar in Roppongi, where a worker by the name of Peter encapsulated everything they sought for the role. With no prior acting experience, Peter plays himself onscreen and possesses that ‘star quality’ which captures your attention. Unquestionably beautiful, Peter calls upon his own experiences to add depth, detail and vibrancy to the pivotal character. It is the role he was born to play, one he would never eclipse. Although interestingly, he did reappear in a 90’s episode of the infamous Guinea Pig series playing a transvestite.
While Funeral Parade Of Roses exposes an element of society relatively unknown to many, the core emotions are all too familiar. The quest for love or more specifically peace is a central theme. Eddie is pursued not only by the presence of his gay bar nemesis Leda, but also demons from the past. Throw in a thriving sixties pop-culture, liberal attitude to sex and drugs, and you have a melting pot of a Japan not only emerging into a modern era but also the arrival of a new filmmaker.

This is a film that demands repeated viewings and your appreciation of it only grows. The first time will open your eyes to a new world; subsequent exposures highlight the brilliance of the directing, editing, cinematography and soundtrack. Having watched Funeral Parade Of Roses again on this occasion with A Clockwork Orange very much in my thoughts; it’s startling. The imagery and editing are hugely influential, particularly the use of close-ups. Right up until the closing scene where we become one with Eddie’s eyeballs, a setting that could so easily be switched with Alex DeLarge’s aversion therapy.
Thanks to Masters of Cinema you can experience the splendour of Funeral Parade Of Roses as part of a superb DVD release. An excellent print is backed up by an informative Matsumoto interview, lavish booklet, a poster section and a very welcome commentary track by the director. So when you’re picking up or ordering your Stanley Kubrick Blu-ray box set, take a detour and include this classic piece of cinema. - Jason Julier

"Funeral Parade of Roses" is one of the more haunting films I watched in 2010, and I'm still thinking about it months after my first viewing. Beautiful, poignant, perverse, and stylish, this exploration of gay culture and identity in late-1960s Japan has a shocking intensity that has lost none of its impact in the forty-plus years since its release. There's a richness of symbolism, a complex artistic intent, and a disorienting structure here that makes the task of discussing the film a daunting one indeed.
The first feature film by director Toshio Matsumoto, "Funeral Parade of Roses" tells the story of Eddie, a startlingly beautiful drag queen who works as a hostess in a Tokyo bar. Eddie and his rival Leda vie for the affections of Gonda, a shady underworld figure who deals drugs and manages the bar where they both work. It's clear that Eddie is struggling with a dark secret that's alluded to in flashbacks throughout the film, and this secret eventually overwhelms him in the crushing final scenes of the film.

Funeral Parade of Roses

This quick plot summary does no justice to the movie, including as it does rollercoaster tonal shifts, Brechtian fourth-wall busting, moments of cheeky humor and digressions into full-on psychedelia. Now might be the right moment to mention that Stanley Kubrick cited "Funeral Parade of Roses" as an influence on his adaptation of "A Clockwork Orange," and while the latter film concentrates much more on satire, the stylistic similarities are undeniable. Matsumoto's film contains several juxtapositions of quirky music and sped-up film and has an overall Pop Art sensibility that encompasses the street fashions sported by the characters, the frequent appearance of poster art in the backgrounds of scenes, and even cartoon word balloons that emerge from the mouths of Eddie and Leda during a particularly nasty spat.

Funeral Parade of Roses

While the film focuses on the gay counterculture in Tokyo, there is a depiction of the city's youth scene that touches on anti-war protests, hippie drug culture, juvenile delinquency, and racial tension. Surgical-masked protesters hold a mock funeral, stalling traffic on the street. One of Eddie's suitors is an African-American soldier stationed in Japan. Eddie and his cross-dressing friends get into a brawl with a tattooed girl gang.

Funeral Parade of Roses

The movie consists of layers upon layers of context that war for the viewer's attention. The aggressively modern production design complements the experimental structure, which includes films-within-the-film. Characters are interviewed about their lifestyles and there are erotic encounters that turn out to be nothing more than performances for a camera crew which is revealed mid-action. This cutting-edge modernity is in contrast with other themes in the movie that are drawn from Greek mythology. Leda is a familiar name to Classicists for her unnatural dalliances with Zeus in swan-form, and the name Eddie is derived from that of the tragic king Oedipus. This tension between modern and classical, East and West, underground and mainstream culture informs every frame of "Funeral Parade of Roses."

Funeral Parade of Roses

The depiction of gay culture is remarkably nuanced and sensitive--characters are shown who exist along the continuum of gender and sexual identity. While the central characters dress and behave like women, they identify as gay men and specifically express the fact that they are not transsexuals. Several of the gay men in the film are what might be called "straight-acting," with the behavior and attire traditionally reserved for "macho," heterosexual men.

Funeral Parade of Roses

In the role of Eddie, actor Peter conveys a sensuality and beauty that are hypnotically androgynous. His elegant physicality and nuanced facial expressions infuse the film with a humanity that might be lost among all the flashy artistry. The inevitability of his fate is made all the more tragic because he is a fully-formed person feeling very real pain beneath all the makeup and artifice.

Funeral Parade of Roses

It's difficult to distill a movie like "Funeral Parade of Roses" because it so perfectly utilizes the cinematic medium. There's something really energizing about seeing a movie that embraces the potential of film. Sound, time, and visuals combine to create an artifact that should be watched and appreciated for its extreme film-ness. Like the best pieces of art, "Funeral Parade of Roses" will leave you thinking long after you've finished watching. -

More than once during Toshio Matsumoto's 1969 film "Funeral Parade Of Roses", I wondered to myself if perhaps a good story had been ruined all in the name of "experimentation". The random images, purposely vague actions, non-sequitors and repeated scenes all seemed to derail my investment in what I thought was the story. I never wondered for long though - even if what I just saw didn't make perfect sense, within 5 minutes I always had a greater context that allowed me to not only dive back into the story, but to dive down a bit deeper. It's a remarkable trick that Matsumoto pulls off - a fractured, non-linear set of events manages to create a complete picture of not only the central character, but also a community of people, a lifestyle and even an entire artistic movement.
The Shinjuku district of Tokyo was a thriving and culture rich environment in the late 60s and Matsumoto was right in the centre of it. He appears to have soaked up a great deal of what was going on through his early experimental short films because he wrings it all out in this feature debut. While revolving his story around young drag queen Eddie (played by 17 year old Peter - the jester Kyoami from Kurosawa's "Ran"), Matsumoto also manages to ponder the nature of filmmaking itself by punctuating the proceedings with actual interviews with gay men (most of them "queens") and providing several meta-moments that throw everything into question. Matsumoto himself appears in the film as a director of a love scene starring Eddie. When the camera cuts from the softly lit throes of ecstasy to the entire camera crew, Eddie asks into the lens if he is doing a good job in his first film (indeed, it was Peter's first film as well). So was it actually cut footage from a similar love scene that opened the film or a fictional porn movie that the character Eddie was appearing in? Whatever the case, it adds yet one more layer to the confusion of the times for these young gay men - growing up in a very patriarchal society, but suddenly finding themselves with much more freedom to experiment with their own identity.

Identity and how we mask it is really the main theme of the film. This comes through in the very natural and honest answers of the men in the documentary-style interviews. The various types of responses help to give a better framework for Eddie and his friends as they flaunt being queens while they walk downtown, browse through shops and unapologetically march into men's bathrooms. They aren't much different than many of their friends who have their own masks and talk of political ideals while getting stoned and having orgies. One example is Guevera - an artist, filmmaker and self-proclaimed revolutionary, who can't even keep on his own fake beard (that mimicks a much more famous revolutionary). There's also Gonda, owner of the gay club called Genet (after author Jean Genet who wrote a great deal about the nature of homosexuality) and Eddie's much older boyfriend, who has a skeleton or two in his closet.

The gist of the plot is that Gonda (played by Yoshio Tsuchiya who had his own Kurosawa connection in his very first film: "Seven Samurai") is attempting to get his other boyfriend Leda to quit as the madam of his club to make way for Eddie. Meanwhile we see snippets of events that foreshadow tragedy on its way. Matsumoto further plays with our expectations, though, since some of these events have already occurred. Combined with the mosaic of almost subliminal images scattered through the film, you can never quite be sure where you are in the story. The many mirrors in the film reflect the many dual identities and help to always question what you might be seeing - is that the real person or yet another mask? As one of the characters says at one point, "Behind the masks, people suffer loneliness". How ironic that one of the repeated musical cues in the film is the old child's song with the refrain "The more we get together, the happier we'll be!" It's worth searching out this unheralded classic for the gorgeous and creative black and white photography alone, but there are so many additional interesting layers to peel away too. - Bob Turnbull

Japanski film uz crossdressere, pedere i kabare

Japanski film uz crossdressere, pedere i kabare


Toshio Matsumoto ime je koje će biti poznato tek malobrojnima, strastvenim istraživačima filmskoga svijeta i/ili zaljubljenicima u japansku kulturu. No, neznanje širokih masa nikad ničemu nije umanjilo važnost. Na ovogodišnjem, sedmom po redu, Festivalu eksperimentalnog filma i videa članica žirija Tanja Vrvilo odabrala je prikazati njegov kratki film „Za moje skršeno desno oko“ iz 1968. godine. Bila je to prilika da se prisjetimo Matsumotova remek-djela „Pogrebna povorka ruža“ iz 1969. godine te otputujemo u Tokijo šezdesetih godina, upoznamo ondašnju političku atmosferu, kontrakulturu i queer scenu.
Šezdesete godine u Japanu bile su turbulentno razdoblje čiji su početak i kraj obilježile važne studentske demonstracije (1960. i 1970.). „Tada se dogodio krah njihovih iluzija, gubitak nade u utopiju za koju se vjerovalo da bi je mogli donijeti studentski protesti. To je razdoblje najradikalnije umjetnosti općenito, a posebice filmske umjetnosti i performansa u Japanu. Postoji četvrt Sindžuku u Tokiju koji je istovremeno bio poprište studentskih nemira i policijskih akcija te snažnih umjetničkih performansa među kojima se ističu oni u kojima su umjetnici nastupali goli“, objasnila je Tanja Vrvilo. Matsumotovi filmovi, i onaj kratkometražni, u svom nabijenom obliku i onaj dugometražni, s naracijom, ne samo da su svjedoci toga vremena, nego su sam njegov koncentrat.
Crossdresseri, pederi i kabare, seks, droga i nasilje koordinate su u kojima se gibaju ta dva filma. „Matsumoto je queer redatelj u najboljem mogućem smislu“, kazala je Tanja Vrvilo za i obrazložila: „Glavni lik ‘Pogrebne povorke ruža’ je crossdresser što je u to vrijeme bio uistinu radikalan potez. Film je bio direktan napad na klasični japanski obiteljski film. Drugačije se nije mogla porušiti ta tradicionalna forma, taj najpoznatiji žanr japanskog filma koji se razvijao od 20-ih godina 20. stoljeća i po kojem je japanski film postao poznat u svijetu. Ne samo da jedan lik u filmu pripada tadašnjoj kontrakulturi, već je cijela kontrakultura bila scena tih dvaju njegovih filmova. To nije čin revolucije, nego više čin otpora i to otpora prema svakom uvriježenom mišljenju i prema svim šablonama“.
Matsumoto je queer i po tome što vješto razbija dihotomije – briše granice između fikcije i fakcije, muškog i ženskog, eksperimentalnog i popularnog. U redateljske vode je ušao kao dokumentarist, a kasnije je počeo raditi eksperimentalnije radove. Kako su mu okviri dokumentarnog filma, koji je vezan uz stvarni svijet i kontekst u kojem nastaje, bili previše uski, a eksperimentalni filmovi, unatoč svojoj imaginaciji i privlačnosti, zatvoreni u svoj svijet, Matsumoto spaja i razdvaja, supostavlja i suprotstavlja ta dva filmska modusa. Već je i sam transvestit onaj koji je istovremeno i muško i žensko pa ćemo u kratkometražnom filmu vidjeti cijeli proces šminkanja i oblačenja, odnosno pretvaranja muškarca u ženu. U dugometražnom filmu odličan primjer Matsumotovih poigravanja je sekvenca u kojoj tri žene (zapravo tri crossdressera) obilaze prodavaonice, no najednom utrčavaju u muški wc, zadižu svoje haljinice i piške stojećki. No, ni tu priča ne završava. Jedan od slojeva „Pogrebne povorke ruža“ mit je o kralju Edipu koji je ubio svoga oca, a vjenčao se sa svojom majkom. Matsumotov Edip je crossdresser koji ubija majku, a završava s ocem.

Matsumoto je najprije želio postati slikar, no roditelji mu to nisu dopustili jer je u tada siromašnom Japanu to značilo da će biti doslovno gladan. Upisao je medicinu jer ga je zanimao mozak i psihički poremećaji, no kada se upoznao s avangardnim i eksperimentalnim filmom, njegova je karijera krenula u drugom smjeru. Neobičan podatak u njegovoj biografiji jest da je bio registriran kao maloljetni delikvent jer je dvaput uhićen dok je bježao iz škole i to kako bi gledao filmove. Nakon šezdesetih godina, vremena „Pogrebne povorke ruža“ i „Za moje skršeno desno oko“, Matsumoto je i dalje nastavio raditi, postavljati velike instalacije i izložbe, snimati hvaljene igrane filmove, a i dandanas predaje na Fakultetu umjetnosti i dizajna u Kyotu. On, poput njegovih filmova, izmiče svim definicijama i određenjima – on je i teoretičar i redatelj i kritičar i filmaš i intelektualac u pravom smislu te riječi.
Matsumoto će u filmskoj povijesti ostati upisan kao prvi japanski redatelj koji je snimio dugometražni igrani film koji se događa na gej andergraund sceni, a svojevrsni je kuriozitet da je utjecao na samog Stanleya Kubrika i njegovu „Paklenu naranču“. Dovoljno razloga za gledanje?

Funeral Parade of Roses article by Jonathan M. Hall (PDF)

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