B&W, 1969, 105m. / Directed by Toshio Matsumoto / Starring Peter, Furamenko Umeji / SRO (Japan R2 NTSC)

Anyone up for an avant garde gore/gay/mondo/Japanese version of Oedipus Rex crossed with A Hatchet for the Honeymoon? Well, look no further than Bara no s˘retsu, christened in English as Funeral Parade of Roses (and also known as Funeral Procession of Roses). Packed with pop art visuals, cheeky references to Jean Genet, swinging music, and the most thorough audience disorientation outside of a Jodorowsky film, this unique fusion of art house pretense and giddy exploitation is not for the faint of heart but well worth seeking out.

Gender-bending actor Peter (best remembered as the Fool from Akira Kurowsawa's Ran and the madam from Fruits of Passion) stars as cross-dressing club kid Eddie, first seen in the arms of Gureko (Furamenko Umeji), owner of the Genet Bar in Shinjuku. Tormented as a teenager, Eddie is plagued by hallucinatory, violent memories of his late mother burning his father's face out of a photograph which he now keeps as the only keepsake of his family. Meanwhile he's also fighting for Gureko's heart, since the older man is also being wooed by the nightclub's queen bee, Leda (Ogasawara Osamu). The feud leads to a nasty catfight and a glamorous funeral, with the escalating drama finally exploding in a bloody, startling climax. Along the way the film is interspersed with "man on the street" interviews with various men of all stripes and a few drag queens, with even the cast getting in on the action to make the film even stranger.

Packed with bizarre tonal shifts and deliberate distancing devices (inserts of film leader, startling insertions of animation and paintings, comic-style dialogue balloons popping out of characters' mouths), Funeral Parade of Roses has been cited in several sources as an influence on Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (presumably for its whiplash editing, youth gang imagery and sped-up montage sequence); whatever the case may be, it's surprising the film doesn't enjoy a larger reputation as it's easily more accessible than anything by, say, Koji Wakamatsu. Certain aspects have dated, such as the mod clothes and the occasional wallowing/self-pitying attitude common at the time (see Boys in the Band or The Killing of Sister George for more flagrant examples); however, for the most part the film plays quite well and benefits by draping its flamboyant techniques on a traditional tragic story. The gruesome, cleverly executed payoff is worth the price of admission alone, with some jolting eyeball mayhem that would make Lucio Fulci stand up and applaud.

The Region 2 Japanese DVD features an extremely good transfer in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Contrast and black levels are dead on, and detail level is fine. The optional English subtitles are literate and easy to read, while the mono audio is clear enough though not particularly powerful. Extras include a nifty theatrical trailer and a video interview (in Japanese only) with director Toshio Matsumoto. The disc is also available in a pricey, limited edition "Toshio Matsumoto Zen Gekieiga DVD Box" with three other films, Shura (a.k.a. Demons), Juroku-sai no senso, and Dogura magura.

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