Few movies are as redolent of their times as “Funeral Parade of Roses,” a 1969 exemplar of Japanese countercultural ferment that, retrieved from history’s dustbin and digitally restored to its original black-and-white glory, opens on Friday at the Quad.
It was the first feature by the mixed-media artist Toshio Matsumoto (1932-2017), a polemical figure who in 1958 published a manifesto calling for a new cinematic form merging documentary and experimental films.
“Funeral Parade” is that. A hodgepodge of themes and techniques, it transposes the Oedipus story to the intersection of Tokyo’s hippie and “gay boy” subcultures, opening with a Baudelaire quotation and incorporating street rituals by the Zero Jigen performance group. The title, taken from one performance, is a pun: Bara, Japanese for “rose,” is a slang term akin to the English “pansy.”
The protagonist, Eddie (played by the androgynous entertainer Peter, later featured in Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 “Ran”), is a sweet hustler with a dark past. As polished a looker as the Warhol Factory’s reigning drag queens Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, Eddie parlays an affair with a local drug dealer into becoming the madam of the Club Genet, an actual gay bar in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. The movie, however, is a lot less linear than Eddie’s rise.
Some scenes are speeded-up slapstick; others, like a lengthy sequence of Eddie and his hippie friends high on drugs and dancing in their underwear, are cinéma vérité. Mr. Matsumoto repeatedly waxes self-reflective, interviewing his actors (many nonprofessionals). One gory episode is followed by a cut to the host of a real TV show, “Saturday Foreign Film Theater,” who comments on “Funeral Parade” as if he’d just shown it: “That shocked you, didn’t it?”
“Funeral Parade” did not reach New York until June 1973, opening for six days at the First Avenue Screening Room, a 220-seat art house in the shadow of the 59th Street Bridge. The Village Voice ignored the film (even though it name-checks the Voice film critic Jonas Mekas); the New York Times critic Vincent Canby was unimpressed, calling it “a mopey soap opera” that might have been made for Bette Davis. Not likely — in addition to assimilating art movies like Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising,” “Funeral Parade” seems steeped in the Japanese Kabuki theater tradition of the onnagata, or female impersonators.
Perhaps “Funeral Parade” would have fared better at midnight. John Waters’s “Pink Flamingos” was several months into its blockbuster run; kindred releases that season included the Holly Woodlawn vehicle “Broken Goddess,” something called “Dragula” and a six-week midnight revival of “Some Like It Hot.” Or perhaps not. “Pink Flamingos” was advertised as “an exercise in poor taste.” Mr. Matsumoto’s film is tastefully outré.