Death at 73 of Issei Sagawa, the “Japanese cannibal”

Issei Sagawa, nicknamed the “Japanese cannibal” for having killed and eaten a Dutch student in Paris, died more than 40 years after facts which had caused horror before transforming the assassin into a media phenomenon in his country.

Sagawa died Nov. 24 of pneumonia at the age of 73, and a funeral has already been held attended by only his relatives, according to a statement from the publisher of an autobiography of his brother Jun published in 2019.

No public ceremony was planned, the statement added.

Issei Sagawa was a student in Paris at the University of the Sorbonne when, on June 11, 1981, he invited a Dutch comrade, Renée Hartevelt, to dinner in his apartment.

There, he killed her with a rifle shot in the neck and raped her before cutting her up and eating different parts of her body for three days, while taking many pictures of his macabre crime.

He then tried to get rid of the body of the young woman in two abandoned suitcases in the Bois de Boulogne, but was found and arrested thanks to a call for witnesses launched by the police.

“Eating that girl was an expression of love. I wanted to feel in me the existence of a person I love,” he confessed after his arrest.

Experts having attested to his mental illness, he had benefited from a dismissal and had been interned in France then in Japan before recovering freedom in August 1985.

His departure from France had aroused the anger and indignation of the family of his victim and many people.

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The family had sworn to pressure Japanese public opinion so that “the murderer would never be released”.

Later becoming a media star, Sagawa received many journalists in his apartment in the suburbs of Tokyo. He intervened on Japanese television and had published several best-sellers like “Cannibal” or “I would like to be eaten” and drew a manga recounting his crime.

Cannibal drive

Issei Sagawa had seemed worried that his writings would be read outside Japan, declaring to AFP in the early 1990s: “I never imagined that the family (of the victim, editor’s note) could read this”.

His act, which had shocked public opinion while arousing a certain morbid fascination for its author, had notably inspired the Japanese writer Juro Kara who won the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize in 1982 for his novel “The Letter from Sagawa”, devoted to crime.

British rock band The Stranglers also alluded to crime in a French-language song titled “La Folie,” released in 1981.

Two anthropologists had made a documentary about him in 2017, titled “Caniba”, in which Issei Sagawa claimed not to be able to “explain” his act.

“It’s just my fantasy. I can’t say anything more specific,” he said in the film. “People must think I’m crazy.”

He described his “obsession” as “impossible to contain”, stating, “I wanted to eat ass more than anything in the world”.

According to this documentary, Sagawa had identified his cannibalistic impulse very early in adolescence, at the same time as his sexual awakening, and his desire focused on blonde actresses in Western cinema. American star Grace Kelly had been his “first attraction”.

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The directors, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, said they had been “crossed” by a host of “extremely conflicting feelings” over the months spent in the intimacy of Issei Sagawa and his brother Jun, follower of the self-harm.

“We were disgusted, fascinated, we wanted to understand”, specified Véréna Paravel, adding that it was despite everything a “film about brotherhood, about love”.

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