Bold, astonishing and ahead of its time: in his queer drama FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES, Japanese director Toshio Matsumoto turns the rules of conventional film-making upside down and delivers both a visual and narrative tour-de-force that takes us through the transvestite bars and artist hangouts of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district in the late 1960’s.

Enter Eddie (‘Peter’), a young cross-dresser who works as a hostess in the Genet transvestite club run by Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya) – outwardly a rather conservatively dressed businessman whose ‘straight’ appearance betrays his wilder self, for Gonda not only having a secret affair with Eddie but is openly attached to Leda (Osamu Ogasawara) – an elderly cross-dresser who prefers the traditional Geisha guise to Eddie’s beat-girl appearance. Unfortunately, most of the middle-aged businessmen who frequent the Genet Club also prefer Eddie to Leda, resulting in a rivalry between the two transvestites, which is bound to culminate in an open catfight. To make matters worse, when Leda suspects Gonda and Eddie of having an affair the ensuing argument prompts Gonda to reveal that he intends to make Eddie the club’s official star attraction – prompting further friction within this triangle.

In a subplot we see bearded young filmmaker Guevara (Toyosaburo Uchiyama) and his posse of drug-taking hippies working on the next underground film involving clips of student protests and other anarchic images. Eddie and other transvestites join Guevara’s stoner parties where anything goes (and usually does!) with wild, uninhibited and hallucinogenic action played out to guitar-heavy, psychedelic music. In another subplot we learn (via flashbacks) of how Eddie became the way he is after his father left the family at an early age (for a cross-dresser?) and Eddie’s mother (Emiko Azuma) poking fun at her already androgynous son when he declares, “Don’t worry about father having left us, you have me to look after you” – gradually culminating in what would be the film’s shocking climax – a loose homage to Oedipus Rex.

If all this sounds pretty straightforward then it is anything but! The film uses collage-like juxtapositions, reversed time-lap techniques, film-within-film, multiple frames and an overall highly experimental approach a la Jean-Luc Godard or even David Lynch-style surreal narrative in order to tell this tale of Japanese ‘Roses’ (a pun on the English ‘Pansies’). All this is interspersed with real interviews during which young gay men and transvestites reveal (or chose not to) as why they feel they way they do. Director Matsumoto furthermore delivers a fascinating glimpse into the world of Shinjuku’s demi-monde though the b/w film also sports some humorous moments, for example when Eddie and two other transvestites get involved in a street fight with three members of a girl’s gang (real girls, that is). Bitches, bitches, bitches…

FUNERAL PARADE OF ROSES was Toshio Matsumoto’s first feature film. Included in this strictly limited 2-Disc Blu-ray Edition (3000 copies only in a new 4K digital restoration) are various Special Features including feature-length commentary by punk poet and film historian Chris D, trailers, illustrated booklet plus eight recently restored avant-garde shorts by director Matsumoto made between 1961 and 1975, of which Atman is without doubt the most ‘out there’ one – depicting a constantly rotating man on a beach wearing an Onibaba-style ghost mask while fuzzed-up trippy sounds and overtly-saturated colours would make this the perfect visual backdrop for a performance at Glastonbury!

FUNERAL PARADE will simultaneously be available for rental and download-to-own on iTunes and Amazon Prime. It will also be available on BFI Player’s subscription service later this summer as part of a major new collection of Japanese films, BFI JAPAN 2020, which launches on 11 May and continues until October.