Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Interrogated Mask

There is an intimate relationship between post-modernism of the 1960s and civil rights movements as the former was largely about subverting the traditional narratives that worked against the latter. 1969's Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列) is about gay Tokyo subculture in the 1960s with a particular focus on "gayboys", the term used in Japan for transvestites employed as hostesses of gay bars. The film subverts both typical stories and psychological inferences made by the traditional heterosexual culture in a wonderfully sharp New Wave style. It features beautiful cinematography by Toshio Matsumoto and a magnetic star in Peter.

Best known in the west for playing Kyoami (analogue of the Fool from King Lear) in Akira Kurosawa's Ran from the mid-80s, Peter is the professional name of Shinnosuke Ikehata, a famous drag queen in Japan. In Funeral Parade of Roses, he plays Eddie, the most sought after hostess of the bar he works at, much to the jealousy of his coworker, Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), in particular.

Wikipedia says the film was an influence on A Clockwork Orange and it's easy to see in the film's fight sequences. Whenever the transvestites brawl with each other or with a gang of girls with absurdly phoney tattoos in the street, the film is sped up and accompanied on the soundtrack by Offenbach's famous can-can music synthesised at high speed. In this case, in a very New Wave manner, the technique is used to intentionally diminish the dramatic impact of what's occurring.

Similarly, the film breaks in on its fictional narrative to feature interviews with the actors or to simply show the artificiality of a scene. A sex scene between Peter and an American man abruptly stops to show the whole film crew crowded around the bed and Peter casually getting dressed. This subverts both the drama over whether the American realises Eddie is a guy as well as another theme introduced, the tensions about western cultural influence on Japan.

A later break in the narrative is a brief interview with Peter where he deliberately spoils the end of the film in casually talking about the ways he relates to his character--similar lifestyle and interests--and ways in which he is different--the film's ultra-violent rendition of Oedipus Rex which is part of a subversion about the issues with a father figure that pop psychology tended to infer about homosexuals and transvestites.

The effect of the film's relentless breaking down of presumptions is like a threshing that removes the chaff of bullshit and helps reveal the simple grain of reality, like the fact that Peter's rather beautiful.

Eddie visits a museum a couple times during the film where a narrator talks about the necessity of psychological masks where a real person underneath is inevitably lonely. The obvious relevance and sombreness of this is continually subverted by a shot of a man wearing a false beard that's blown off by the wind. The film's post-modern subversions work both to show up unjust perceptions of others and the fragility of human nature which needs to construct perceptions around itself. Like the films of the French New Wave, it's wrong to say the film is simply attacking dreams.

A scene where Eddie and other transvestites as well as other men and women dance and smoke pot under the benevolent gaze of The Beatles on a massive poster seems to say a lot about shared humanity and cross cultural influence.

Twitter Sonnet #905

Misfortune chose the falling powder room.
In caves forgotten twice per day they spit.
However bright the plates can be they're groomed.
A chorus line relays the gum with mitts.
Tamale lamps advance the rate of corn.
The light we called for wheat became the maize.
In stacks, the stones assert the crops we've shorn.
A rain of grass descends and makes the maze.
Trombones of justice salvage soccer pucks.
The wrong projectile flew before the pult.
At night tattoos depart and rally trucks.
The animated ink cascades like sparrows moult.
The petals placed on cloudy tables drift.
In cement skies the heat produced a rift.

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