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Japan Subculture Research Center

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Tale of the celebrity cannibal


Nov 21, 2010

The Korean custom of eating dogs is something that on occasion mistakenly gets loaded on to the Japanese. To the French and Dutch in the summer of 1981, mention of the Japanese likely brought to mind one individual who ate a completely different type of meat–human.

Issei Sagawa had just completed a semester of study at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris, France, when he invited his Dutch classmate Renée Hartevelt to dinner. Sagawa shot and killer her, then spent the next three days eating her body. He was caught trying to dump her remains in a lake, and investigators discovered further remains still in Sagawa’s fridge. According to his testimony, Sagawa had found Hartevelt to be incredibly beautiful and he wanted to “absorb her energy” in order to compensate for his own “weak, ugly, and small” stature.

Sagawa was found to be legally insane, but was released into the hands of the Japanese authorities. After being examined by psychologists, who found him to be sane but “evil”, he was released.

The folks over at VBS TV have just released a short documentary on Sagawa (part 1 and 2). For those unfamiliar with Vice Mag and VBS TV, I warn you that it’s not for the faint of heart and NSFW.

Perhaps as an unfortunate testament to the Japanese penchant for the unusual, Sagawa now lives as a minor celebrity. He’s also a painter according to this macabre YouTube clip, and he tries to persuade potential clients that he has better and more delicate taste than Hannibal Lecter. Somehow his blood-red shirt doesn’t put us at ease.

14 thoughts on “Tale of the celebrity cannibal”
  1. I’m disappointed you posted this. This guy lives for his notoriety. Pampered son of one of the wealthiest families in Japan blah blah blah. Please IGNORE him.

  2. Well, I for one didn’t know about him, and I think it’s important for people to know he exists and is walking a free and unpunished man in Japan.

    1. I have to agree with Sarah on that one. As old-time Japan hands there is a tendency to forget that what is common knowledge to us isn’t common knowledge for everyone else. So I think that she’s correct in posting it. In a morally just world, he wouldn’t be a celebrity, he’d be in a grave.

  3. Not just walking unpunished, but pretty much a celebrity – is this some kind of a joke from Japanese law enforcement or mental healthcare? How come they do not care that someone not just can get away with murder, but can laugh into the eye of others while posing as a “great” artist? To me it’s the same as police corruption, just as disgusting as the good guys looking away for the sake of the bad guys – looking away is bad, but letting this human garbage go on living is worse 🙁

    Jake, what’s your opinion on this case? I mean how is this possible in the Japanese media? Is this because of his money, powerful/wealthy friends, or because the media finds it amusing – or does it have to do anything with racist thoughts, like “hell, he killed a foreigner in a foreign country, it’s not our business”?

    1. I think that people don’t know much about the victim and thus she’s dehumanized. It all seems like a comic book to them. They don’t understand the horrible tragedy this was for his victim and her loved ones and the terrible suffering she endured. And I think there is an element of envy and admiration for any man in Japan who gets aways with murder. I don’t think it’s racism; it’s ignorance and it’s human nature at its worst. There will always be those who admire the depraved, the oddballs that send fan letters to serial killers. There’s no question Isegawa is crazy. He probably fancies himself a magiphage–someone who gains magical powers and energy from consuming other people (often but not limited to magicians.)

      Personally, I don’t feel like he’s even come close to making up for the horrible thing he did. However, I can’t see into his mind but yes, I find it offensive that a sadistic killer is given celebrity status. However, who knows what would happen if Charles Manson ever gets out of jail He might be a celebrity as well.

  4. Thank you for the answer – as for Manson in my opinion it’s all about that “if”, probably he might have ended up being a celebrity, and that would’ve mad me “sad” nevertheless – maybe I wouldn’t be so outraged if I did see a tiny bit of a repent… but yeah, probably it’s “just” human nature 🙁

  5. There was a UK documentary made in 2007 (http://jasongray.blogspot.com/2007/09/fukubukuro.html and http://jasongray.blogspot.com/2007/11/sagawa-issei-documentary-airs-in-uk.html) that also presented Sagawa — or rather, allowed Sagawa to present himself — as a Euro-sophisticate.

    Take a look around the internet for a high-res close up of Renée Hartevelt’s severed head and half-eaten face sitting on an autopsy gurney and tell me how sophisticated he is…

    1. Hey thanks for posting this. I’ve seen the pictures. He’s a horrible man. 天に唾す is the proverb that comes to mind. Unfortunately, he seems to have gained karmic immunity. Maybe someday he’ll get what he deserves which is not adulation.

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