Issei Sagawa

The subject this time is interesting to say the least, for centureis cannibalism has been practiced and observed in many ways, from tribes in Papua New Guniea, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 517 crash that drove survivor to eat dead passengers in order to survive, serial killers like Jefferey Dhamer an Albert fish, to the fictious cannibals like Dr Hannibal Lecter, each time the idea of consuming human flesh will always sicken, horrify and intrigue people. Issei Sagawa’s case is more horrifying because he killed and ate a woman, but is currently free a living Japan, of course macabre interest in Sagawa gained him the name “the celebrity cannibal”.

Sagawa was born to wealthy parent in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, Japan. He was born prematurely, and his father said he was small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, he developed enteritis (disease of the small intestines) as a baby and required injections of potassium and calcium in saline and then recovered.

Sagawa did an interview with Vice back in 2011 and said he first experienced cannibalistic desires in the first grade when he saw a male’s bare thigh, he went on to say that as a youth he also partook in bestiality with his dog and had cannibalistic desires for women.

When Sagawa was 23, still living in Japan, he followed a German woman home, he broke into her apartment while she slept. His intentions were to cannibalise her, the plan was to tear a piece of her flesh off and taking it with him, but she woke up and Sagawa says she tackled him to the ground. Sagawa was arrested that night and charged with attempted rape, he did not reveal his true intentions.

Four years later in 1977, Sagawa emigrated to France to study for his P.H.D in literature at Sorbonne in Paris. He claimed that while in Paris he would bring prostitutes home planning to shoot them, but he said that when it came to it his fingers would “freeze up” leaving him unable to pull the trigger.

Sagawa had lived in Paris five years by the time he took his first victim Renee Hartevelt. On 11th June 1981, Sagawa invited his Sorbonne classmate Renee Hartevelt to dinner at his apartment. He invited her under the pretext of translating poetry for a school assignment. He chose Hartevelt because of her health and beauty, something he believed he lacked. Her health overall is what drew him to her she was a healthy 25-year-old woman stood at 5ft 10in whereas, Sagawa was weak, he considered himself ugly and small being only 4ft 9in, due to being premature, he later claimed he wanted to “absorb her energy”. He attacked Hartevelt while she sat at the desk reading poetry, she had her back to him and that’s when he shot her in the neck with a rifle. Sagawa fainted due to the shock of shooting her, but carried out his plan once he woke up, he proceeded to rape her corpse, he tried to bite into her skin, but was unsuccessful. He left the apartment and bought a butcher knife. Sagawa kept Hartevelt’s body in the apartment for two days while he ate various parts of her body and saving some in the refrigerator. Sagawa was caught immediately after this murder when he tried to dump her body in a lake in the Bois de Boulogne, he was seen carrying two suitcases (that contained Hartevelt’s dismembered remains) and arrested by French police.

Sagawa’s father provided him with a lawyer for his defence, he was held for two years awaiting trial until he was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by the French judge Jean Louis Brugiere, Sagawa was ordered to be held indefinitely in a mental institution.  While incarcerated he was visited by Japanese author Inuhiko Yomota, he published Sagawa’s account of the killing under the title of In the Fog. The interest in the publication gained Sagawa a celebrity status, it is believed that this contributed to the French authorities decision to deport Sagawa to Japan, after deportation he was committed to Matsuzawa hospital. The examining psychologists at the hospital declared that Sagawa was sane and found sexual perversion to be the motivation behind his crimes.

The charges against Sagawa in France were dropped when he was deported, all the evidence and court files were sealed and not released to Japanese authorities, as a result with no solid paper evidence of the crimes Sagawa couldn’t legally be detained in Japan. On 12th August 1986 and has remained free ever since.

Sagawa’s release has been widely criticized, but it hasn’t stopped him clinging on to his celebrity status. Between 1986 and 1997 he began guest speaking frequently and wrote books about his kill as well as a book on the 1997 Kobe child murders called Shonen A, he also wrote restaurant reviews for the Japanese magazine Spa. He appeared in an exploitation film called Uwakizuma: Chijokuzeme (Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture), he played a sado-sexual voyeur.  However, the initial interest and “shock value” that Sagawa seemed to possess has somewhat died down and he now struggles to find employment and no publisher will work with him in his writing career. Sagawa did get a job in a French-language school, his employer was impressed by his courage in using his real name, but he quickly lost this opportunity after employees protested.

Sagawa’s parents died in 2005 and he did not attend their funerals as he was prevented, but he repaid their creditors and moved into public housing in order to fund this, he was then on welfare benefits for a while. In the same 2011 Vice documentary he spoke about his finances and employment and said, “being forced to make a living while being a known murderer and cannibal is a terrible punishment”.

Sagawa clearly had low confidence and low self-esteem, this is clear not only because he said he felt he was weak and ugly, but he displays it in his crimes by the fact he would attack his victims from behind, he doesn’t give them a chance to defend themselves or judge him for what he’s doing and planning to do, this also shows he did feel some shame, he knew what he was doing was wrong, but to him it is a compulsion.

Due to how he viewed himself he feels he needs to regain some control, this is where I believe his necrophilia comes in, he has total control over a corpse and that’s what the “thrill” is for him, death is associated with cannibalism as the flesh is usually from a dead body so the necrophilia element would also fit perfectly in with the desires he already had. The fact he was so small and had health problems made his control issues worse, as he has no control over the fact he was small and ill, this must have been a big problem for him as he had the delusion that by eating Hartevelt he would “absorb her energy” this tells me he is so desperate with how low he feels about himself that he will try anything to try and control and change himself. He displayed the cannibalistic desires long before of course so this wasn’t the only motivation only a part of it, he had an interest in human flesh and as he got older and started to develop sexual feelings the cannibalism became a part of sexual fantasies.

As we know, Sagawa is currently free and living in Tokyo, his release has been widely criticised and the question of whether he is really dangerous is the real issue, now I believe if given the opportunity he will kill again, the cannibalism and necrophilia are a sexual compulsion that he won’t be able to control forever.

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