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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

MOVIE CORNER: FUNERAL PROCESSION OF ROSES

Funeral Procession of Roses [Bara no Souretsu]
(also known as Funeral Parade of Roses or Parade of Roses) (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) is a film about Eddie, a female impersonator; his male lover, who is also the manager of the club where he works; and another female impersonator who is Eddie's rival both romantically and professionally. It’s also a retelling of the Oedipus myth, though this isn’t apparent at all on a first viewing. There are also indications that all of this a film-within-the-film, which is connected somehow to a mysterious figure known as Guevara.

Structurally, the film resembles Godard’s early films. It incorporates disparate elements, from slapstick to mock-documentary to political protest to tragedy; and most of the scenes are only loosely connected to each other. And to prevent viewers from losing themselves in the film, Matsumoto uses all the tricks of the French New Wave: intertitles, images briefly inserted into seemingly unrelated scenes, freeze-frames, jump-cuts, sped-up sequences invoking silent film comedy, and more. But far from being incoherent or derivative, Funeral Procession of Roses is a startlingly original work. If you’re seriously interested in film as an art, you need to watch this.

The extras on the DVD are in Japanese, but the trailer is worth watching, both because it contains at least one snippet of film that didn’t make it into the movie, and because it shows how the distributor tried to sell the film commercially.

There’s some groovy psychedelic guitar accompanying some of the scenes, though I didn’t catch who played it.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

MOVIE CORNER: YAJI AND KITA: THE MIDNIGHT PILGRIMS

I’ve been watching a number of interesting Japanese films recently, courtesy of Odd Obsession Movies. One of them was Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims [Mayonaka no Yaji-san Kita-san].

This film was written and directed by Kankuro Kudo, who wrote the screenplays to Go, Ping Pong and Zebraman, among others, and is an anarchic comedy freely adapted from the manga of the same Japanese title written and drawn by Shiriagari Kotobuki (with bits from Shiriagari’s novel adaptation of his manga incorporated). It takes place in an ostensibly Edo-period (1603-1867) Japan filled with present-day anachronisms. The title characters are a pair of male lovers, one of whom (Kita) is a drug addict and unable to distinguish between reality and his hallucinations. They embark on a pilgrimage to the shrine at Ise in hopes that there Kita will be cured of his addiction and find “reality.”

In the course of the film, which moves fluently between dreams, hallucinations, and an increasingly surreal reality, they encounter, among other things, a town which only standup comedians are allowed to pass through, a group of modern-day high school girls who call themselves the “Pleasure Team” of a Mafia boss whom they have never seen, and a health club in the afterlife in which all the souls look exactly the same, regardless of their appearance and gender when alive. It’s very funny in an absurdist way, although it grows steadily more serious in tone as it progresses (though never completely abandoning comedy) and the ending is surprisingly sweet and touching.

A couple of notes: There are several good songs on the soundtrack, in a variety of styles. I particularly liked the ending theme, the punk screamer “I Wanna Be Your Fuck.” And you can see Shiriagari’s art on the walls of Kita’s house, as well as on the invitation to Ise that Yaji receives. Shiriagari himself has a bit part as the owner of “Tokyo Phonographs” (which sells the hit song Yaji and Kita record) and Kazuo Umezu also has a bit role as “Old man.”

The DVD is loaded with extras, but some of them are disappointing. The deleted footage consists of brief snippets only a few seconds long. And a short bonus film written by Shiragari himself (if I read the Japanese-language credits correctly) isn’t very good.

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