A scene from Funeral Parade of Roses (Cinelicious Pictures)

This rerelease of the Japanese New Wave film Funeral Parade of Roses is just as groundbreaking now as it was nearly 50 years ago. It’s known as the film that influenced Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 cult classic, A Clockwork Orange, and even without that association, Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 film stands firmly on its own legs.

Based on Oedipus Rex, the film follows two rival trans women, Eddie and Leda, in a fight over the love of Gonda, the proprietor of the sex club where they both work. As Gonda has relations with both of them over the course of the film, he gives them both the indication he has choosen one over the other. The major catch is, Eddie happens to be Gonda’s actual son, whom Gonda doesn’t recognize when Eddie is in drag.

The plot is rather hard to put together, but the marvel of the film is its experimentation with form. It’s mostly a tour through the underground society of late-1960s Tokyo. Through intercutting weirdness, we are treated to the world of hippies, protesters, and sex clubs. It’s very hard to connect the dots in this nonlinear story, but that’s exactly the point.

In New Wave fashion, the film plays with the convention of storytelling: flash-forwards, random images of flowers and naked rear-ends, a roomful of stoners passing a joint in party that escalates into an orgy, etc. It is the ’60s, after all.

At times, it becomes a documentary featuring on-the-street interviews with gay men and trans women. Most interestingly, the interviewers use the term “gay boy” when referring to trans women. Either this is because there wasn’t a term for them in 1969 Japan, or the word was lost in translation.

Matsumoto also breaks the fourth wall. The action is disrupted and the camera steps back to reveal the crew, the lights, the cameras, and the director. Meaning, just what are we watching? The filmmaker is telling something more than a simple story.

Funeral Parade of Roses (the title being a pun: “Roses” translates to “Pansies”) is the granddaddy of trans films. When the interviewer asks Rabbit, a trans woman who just performed in a pornographic scene with a man, “What do you think of a man making love to another man? Do you feel any guilt as a gay boy?” (Again, not exactly the proper term.) “Well, I don’t think it matters… If you love someone, their gender doesn’t matter.” That dated question gets the proper response; the same answer we’ve been giving ever since.

Directed by Toshio Matsumoto
Released by Cinelicious Pictures
Japan. 105 min. Not rated
With Peter, Osamu Ogasawara, and Yoshio Tsuchiya