“The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am quite happy about that.”
In 1981, at the age of 32, Issei Sagawa leapt to infamy for a cannibal murder the Japanese call Pari jinniku jiken (The Paris Human Flesh Incident). When captured, he was found mentally unfit to stand trial, and sent home amidst suggestions that his wealthy family were able to secure special treatment for him. After a year in a mental hospital, Japan’s most gruesome celebrity was free.
Pari jinniku jiken
Sagawa had been studying English literature in Paris when he became obsessed with a Dutch classmate, Renée Hartevelt. Having persuaded her to come to his house to discuss their studies, he shot her in the neck, and spent the next 2 days eating various parts of her body. He chopped up the remains and put them in a couple of suitcases, which he dumped in a park. He was spotted in the park and arrested a few days later.
Although most people were appalled by what he had done, there was undeniable public fascination with Sagawa, and he has managed to make some sort of living out of his infamy:
- He has authored at least 13 books, including explicit accounts of his own experiences. In one, he describes how the Dutch girl’s flesh “melted in [his] mouth like a perfect piece of tuna”. He has also written about other people’s atrocities, including a book about the infamous child-killer Sakakibara.
- He appeared in the 1992 film Sisenjiyou no Aria (The Bedroom), in which women are drugged and subjected to bizarre sexual fetishes. Sagawa’s role as a sadistic voyeur drew directly from his public persona.
- Another example of art imitating life is in Sagawa’s own painting, which focuses on the nude bodies of Caucasian women.
- In one extraordinary display of bad taste, he was once hired by a tabloid to write restaurant reviews.
Despite his varied celebrity career, Sagawa admitted in 2006 that he was having trouble scratching together enough cash to eat a Big Mac, let alone another Dutch student. Sagawa’s decision to revel in public infamy has made sure no one forgets his horrific crime, and he has found himself unemployable. It is difficult to see how much sympathy he should expect.
- Issei Sagawa (Wikipedia)
“In interviews, Sagawa describes himself as a ‘weak, ugly and small man’ and claims that he wanted to ‘absorb her energy.'”
- The Cannibal Celebrity: Issei Sagawa (Crime Library)
“He says that when he sat next to her in a class, he fell instantly in love and could not stop thinking about the white skin of her arms.”
- Issei Sagawa: The Confession
Sagawa’s account of his cannibal act. Not for the faint-hearted.
- Sagawa Issei: Too Much Blood
“I flipped through the childlike drawings. It was an account of his life, with the centerpiece being the two day-long orgy of mutilation, cannibalism and sexual deviance”
- Police photos from the crime scene
WARNING! Some of the pictures are graphic and might be upsetting. If you’re unsure about visiting this site, please don’t.
- Former celebrity cannibal struggles for next meal (MDN WaiWai)
“The fiend not only avoided prison time for his monstrous meal but managed to sashay his gruesome act into a celebrity career”
- Issei Sagawa (Everything2)
“He is (or at least was) a huge celebrity and pop-culture icon in Japan, selling books, doing TV interviews and the like”