Sabzian: The Crucified Lovers
Sat 7 May 2016, 20:00
Cinema Nova, Brussels
PART OF Sabzian

Hajime Takizawa: “To conclude, according to you, what is mise-en-scène?”

Kenji Mizoguchi: “It’s man! One must try to express man adequately.”


Sabzian was founded three years ago out of the ambition to broaden the discourse and imagination around cinema. The heart of the organization is its website, offering space to articles, mostly in Dutch, observations and notes around cinema and image culture. Besides that, the website contains an agenda in English which contextualizes film screenings and related events in Belgium.

Two years ago Sabzian launched its website with a screening of Abbas Kiarostami’s Nema-ye nazdik [Close-Up] (1990), maybe the most beautiful film about cinema and the love for cinema. Last year Some Came Running (1958) by Vincente Minnelli was screened, one of the most beautiful American films about love itself. This year, May 7th, the annual Sabzian evening is dedicated to Chikamatsu monogatari [The Crucified Lovers] (1954) by the Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi, a film about an impossible love. With this festive evening Sabzian officially celebrates its third birthday. The evening and the film will be introduced by Elias Grootaers.

The Crucified Lovers is a sober and heart-rending film about the tragedy of love, duty, honor and conformism in a repressive society. Mizoguchi captures the pervasive sense of confinement by keeping to the restriction and limited room for manoeuvre of the puppet play the film is based on.


Hajime Takizawa: “Om te besluiten, wat is mise-en-scène volgens u?”

Kenji Mizoguchi: “Het is de mens! Men moet de mens juist uitdrukken.”


Sabzian werd drie jaar geleden opgericht vanuit de ambitie om het discours en de verbeelding rond cinema te verdiepen. De website vormt het hart van de werking en biedt ruimte aan voornamelijk Nederlandstalige teksten, beschouwingen en aantekeningen rond cinema en beeldcultuur. Daarnaast behelst de website Engelstalige agenda die filmvertoningen en gerelateerde evenementen in België contextualiseert.

Twee jaar geleden lanceerde Sabzian de website met de vertoning van Abbas Kiarostami’s Nema-ye nazdik [Close-Up] (1990), misschien wel de mooiste film over cinema en de liefde voor cinema. Vorig jaar werd Some Came Running (1958) van Vincente Minnelli vertoond, een van de mooiste Amerikaanse films over de liefde zelf. Dit jaar, op zaterdag 7 mei, staat de jaarlijkse Sabzian-avond in teken van Chikamatsu monogatari [The Crucified Lovers] (1954) van de Japanse filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi, een film over onmogelijke liefde. Met deze feestelijke avond viert Sabzian officieel zijn derde verjaardag. De avond en de film worden ingeleid door Elias Grootaers.

Chikamatsu monogatari is een sobere en hartverscheurende film over de tragedie van liefde, plicht, eergevoel en conformisme in een repressieve samenleving. Mizoguchi legt het doordringende gevoel van opsluiting vast door de beslotenheid en de beperkte beweegruimte te behouden van het poppenspel waarop de film gebaseerd is.


Hajime Takizawa : « Pour conclure, selon vous, qu’est-ce que la mise en scène ? »

Kenji Mizoguchi : « C’est l’homme ! Il faut essayer de bien exprimer l’homme. »


Sabzian est fondé il y a trois ans de l’ambition d’approfondir le discours et l’imagination autour du cinéma. Le cœur de l’organisation est le site web, offrant l’espace aux articles, la plupart en néerlandais, des observations et des notes concernant le cinéma et la culture de l’image. En outre, le site contient un agenda en anglais qui contextualise les séances et les évènements lié au cinéma en Belgique.

Il y a deux ans, Sabzian a lancé le site web avec la séance de Nema-ye nazdik [Close-Up] (1990) de Abbas Kiarostami, peut-être le plus beau film sur le cinéma et l’amour du cinéma. L’année passée c’était Some Came Running [Comme un torrent] (1958) de Vincente Minnelli, un des films américains le plus beau sur l’amour même. Cette année, le 7 mai, l’annuelle soirée Sabzian est dédié à Chikamatsu monogatari [Les amants crucifiés] (1954) du cinéaste japonais Kenji Mizoguchi, un film sur un amour impossible. Avec cette soirée festive Sabzian fête officiellement son troisième anniversaire. La soirée et le film seront introduits par Elias Grootaers.

Les amants crucifiés est un film sobre et saisissant sur la tragédie de l’amour, le devoir, l’honneur et le conformisme dans une société répressive. Mizoguchi saisit le sentiment envahissant d’emprisonnement en retenant la restriction et la marge de manœuvre limitée du spectacle de marionnettes sur lequel le film est basé.

Chikamatsu monogatari
The Crucified Lovers

“A director should never stop being young.”

Kenji Mizoguchi1


“How to talk about Mizoguchi without falling into a double trap: the specialist’s jargon or the humanist’s? Maybe these films sprung from the tradition or the spirit of noh or of kabuki but then who will teach us their profound meaning and would that not be like trying to explain the unknown through the unknowable? Undeniably, Mizoguchi’s art is founded on the play of personal genius within the frame of a dramatic tradition; but do we get any further by the desire to approach it in terms of civilization, by wanting to find there, above all, certain universal values? The fact that men are men at all latitudes is quite foreseeable; if we are surprised at this, that only teaches us something about ourselves.

But these films – that, in an unknown tongue, tell us stories utterly foreign to our customs and our ways –, these films actually do speak to us in a familiar language. What language? The only one to which, all things considered, a filmmaker should lay claim: that of the mise-en-scène. And modern artists haven’t discovered African fetishes by converting to idols, rather because these curious objects touched them in terms of sculpture. If music is a universal idiom, then the same goes for mise-en-scène: it is this language that should be learned to understand ‘Mizoguchi’, not Japanese. A common language, but wielded here to such a degree of purity that our Western cinema has seldom known.”

Jacques Rivette2


“In a long, fascinating, anecdotal but perceptive letter to Cahiers du Cinéma, Yoshikata Yoda, a screenwriter who knew Mizoguchi for over twenty years, describes the demanding experience of working with the great Japanese director. ‘I remember,’ writes Yoda, ‘as if it were yesterday, that to finish my scenarios, I would help my weak body by thinking, almost desperately, of all the obstacles I had to overcome, and which were set in front of me by Mizo-san (Mizoguchi). “Be stronger, dig more deeply. You have to seize man, not in some of his superficial aspects, but in his totality. We have to know that we lack, we Japanese, all ideological visions: the vision of life, the vision of the universe...” Completely discouraged by these words from Mizo-san, and making myself sorrier by thinking of the weakness of my brain, I tried to write, without ever being sure of myself...’ What Yoda’s story tells us that’s so essential to Mizoguchi’s directional method is that Mizoguchi establishes obstacles for himself, his assistants and his characters only to transcend them. If, as Mizoguchi claims, the Japanese lack a vision of life, a vision of the universe, what he and his cinema do is to create that vision, to push not only his cameraman, his scriptwriter, and his actors but also his visual style, his story, and his characters beyond their superficial limitations to a deeper, more coherent, more total, more transcendent vision of the universe.”

John Belton3


“What Mizoguchi often did, however, especially in his period films, was to find a cinematic expression for the episodic storytelling that marked not just traditional painted scrolls, but pre-modern Japanese literature. The original story of The Life of Oharu was written by Ihara Saikaku, the great seventeenth-century chronicler of fictional rakes and courtesans in the brothel districts of Kyoto and Osaka. Saikaku did not write like modern novelists, developing characters over time; he wrote atmospheric vignettes, almost like mini-novellas, that bring the reader into his imaginary world. Mizoguchi does something similar in such films as The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, and The Crucified Lovers (1954), which is based on a play by Chikamatsu, the seventeenth-century puppet theater dramatist. [...] [Mizoguchi] is often described in Japan as a “feminist.” But his feminism, if that is what it was, bore little resemblance to what we might understand by that term today. [...] The point of these stories is not political protest against “feudalism” or male chauvinism. Rather, as always with Mizoguchi, the point is aesthetic, even spiritual. He finds beauty in the sacrifice of his heroines, and a dark and uncontrollable force in their attraction to men. The female sex, in his movies, is to be worshiped, but also to be feared. Women are victims of male ambition and lust, but they are at the same time more powerful than men.”

Ian Buruma4

  • 1. Kenji Mizoguchi, interview by Tsuneo Hazumi, in: Cahiers du Cinéma, 116 (1961).
  • 2. Jacques Rivette, « Mizoguchi vu d’ici », Cahiers du Cinéma, 81 (1958). [Translation by Sabzian. Read more here (in English) and here (in Dutch) in our article section.]
  • 3. John Belton, “The Crucified Lovers of Mizoguchi,” Film Quarterly, 25, nr. 1 (1971), 15-19.
  • 4.The Beauty in Her Sacrifice”.