Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cannibal Cuisine

Our society likes to make celebrities of criminals, especially of murderers.  The more vile and morbid is the crime, the more salacious is the discourse about it.  Acts of cannibalism become especially notorious.  In contemporary cases of infamous cannibals such as Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, the media played no small part in generating their notoriety.  Rarely, however, does the public hear an account from the murderer themselves (Even O.J. Simpson's novel If I Did It was canceled).

Issei Sagawa, this time sampling a more socially acceptable dish. Source

In 1981, Japanese student Issei Sagawa was in Paris studying French Literature.  On June 11, he invited his classmate Renée Hartevelt to his apartment under the pretense of dinner and literary conversation.  While she was seated at the table, he shot her through the back of the neck with a rifle, killing her instantly.  He later testified that he fainted after shooting her, and awoke feeling regret but was committed to his plan of eating her.  He began with her buttocks, sampling the flesh both raw and cooked.  He then moved on to her legs and hips, pausing to copulate with the corpse.  For two days, he feasted on the dead body.  He attempted to dump the mutilated body in a suitcase in a lake near his apartment, but was seen in the act and later arrested by French police.

Dinnertime at the Sagawa household.  Source

The case was, from his arrest on, sensationalized in both the French and Japanese media.  In 1985, the popular French Magazine Paris Match obtained and published photos of the aftermath of the murder.  A journalist was arrested and a quarter of a million copies of the magazine were seized as a result. 

A few of the tamer photos which were published in Paris MatchSource

Sagawa's family offered unwavering support for their son and his wealthy father provided a top lawyer for his defense.  After being held for two years without a trial, Sagawa was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial. He was ordered to be held indefinitely in a secure mental institution.  During this time, he was visited by Japanese author Inuhiko Yomota, who returned to Japan with Sagawa's account of the murder in his novel In the Fog, which made bestseller lists in Japan.  Probably because of the publicity of the morbid affair, French authorities decided to extradite Sagawa to Japan.  In Japan, he was checked into a hospital where he was found sane but sexually perverted.  However, the Japanese authorities found it legally impossible to hold him, as the French court did not sent the proper paperwork.  On August 12, 1986, Sagawa checked himself out of the hospital as a free man.

Don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry. Source

Instead of being ostracized for his crimes, Sagawa has become a celebrity in Japan.  He is hardly shy about his crime, taking every opportunity possible to talk about it.  His novel In the Fog became a best seller.  He is often invited as a guest speaker and commentator.  In an odd twist of fate, he has served as a food critic for the Japanese magazine Spa.  He appeared in the 1992 exploitation film Uwakizuma: Chijokuzeme (Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture) as a sadosexual voyeur.  He has written novels about other infamous Japanese murderers, directed soft-core pornography, made paintings about violent and sexual fantasies, and has inspired numerous films and songs about his life.

 Sagawa with an original painting (left) and a vial of his own semen (right), both of which are for sale. Source

There is no shortage of accounts of the murder from Issei himself:
At first I bit into her butt with the intention of munching right through, but it’s impossible! Human skin is so thick. I ended up with a sore jaw, although I managed to leave some teeth marks. I ended up swallowing the clitoris and some pubes without chewing on it because she had her period then and the smell was just horrendous. But it was the first moment that I actually felt a sort of sexual pleasure in eating her, as if my inner body was on fire. Also, you know how beef or whale meat has a sort of beastly smell to it? Human meat is odorless. I actually believe that human meat is the tastiest of all meats. It doesn’t have any of that gamey animal smell. When I ate some more a couple of days later, just before I got arrested, the meat had become sweeter and it tasted great. The meat on the soles of her feet smelled bad, though, and didn’t taste very nice. The neck was the best. The meat tastes more delicate as you move up the body, especially above the torso. Her tongue was delicious as well. I took it out of her mouth and chewed on it raw. Neither the neck nor the tongue has much meat on it, though, so if you really want to feast, you should eat the thighs. Source
He has proclaimed that he has not renounced his cannibalistic fantasies, even calling for more young, beautiful women to submit themselves to be consumed by him:
The desire to eat people becomes so intense around June, when women start wearing less and showing more skin. Just today, I saw a girl with a really nice derrière on my way to the train station. When I see things like that, I think about wanting to eat someone again before I die. So yes, I do still harbor these desires, and I specifically want to eat a Japanese woman this time. I think either sukiyaki or shabu shabu [lightly boiled thin slices] is the best way to go in order to really savor the natural flavor of the meat. Can you please call for people who would willingly be eaten by me in your magazine? There’s one condition, though: They have to be young, beautiful women. Source
 Sagawa with a ten-piece artwork puzzle depicting the murder of Renée Hartevelt; each piece, numbered and signed, is for sale. Source

With other cases of cannibalism, the Japanese seem to be just as horrified of the act as most other societies.  In 2008, Tsutomu Miyazaki, "The Otaku Murderer", was executed without protest for killing four young girls, eating parts of their flesh, and sexually molesting their corpses.  However, Sagawa experienced a completely different treatment for his crimes.  Did his willingness to discuss his crimes somehow make them more socially acceptable?  Or, did the vast coverage of the event, in the French and Japanese media as well as Sagawa's own publicization of the event dehumanize the horrors that went down that night in his Parisian apartment?  Whatever caused this seeming acceptance of Sagawa's crimes, one cannot argue that it is not a morbidly fascinating case to read about.


  1. I'm so disgusted at myself for reading about this, but wow, I had to keep reading. There was something gruesomely fascinating about reading about him eat a human, although I still wanted to throw up.

    From a moral standpoint, I'm pretty angry this guy isn't in jail or sentenced to death yet. He pretty much got away with his crime, and one of the most brutal crimes at that. I don't understand how anyone could tolerate him saying these things outright. I guess there's some kind of perverted fascination that people feel because of the publicity and willingness to talk about eating a human (which is a pretty rare experience).

  2. This is probably one of the more interesting stories of cannibalism I have read. The picture associated sort of humanize this outrageous act performed on the female victims. Many times, we here of people using cannibalism as a means of survival, yet they regret having to use the act and would never do such a thing again. Interestingly, this man notes that he would love to perform this act again and actively asks for Japanese volunteers!

    The fact that an individual can gain public attention from such a heinous crime and profit from the murder seems bizarre to me. Perhaps it is the fact that such a man would face the death penalty in America, and life imprisonment at the very least, that doesn't allow me to understand how a country can allow an admitted murderer to live freely. Even though the actions performed by Sagawa are repulsive, the surreality of the article is probably the only reason I was able to read it in it's entirety.

  3. Like what the other comments stated, I was equal parts horrified and disgusted by the acts described in this story. Also like Kevin, the extreme nature of the events described only piqued my interest even more and compelled me to continue reading.

    I find that similar to the other acts of violence and perversion that we described on this blog, there is a certain inclination in humans to be attracted to what is taboo. It is this fear or burning need to understand the unknown that resonates the inquisitive fibers in our being so strongly that we can't help but continue exposure to events that we'll never dream of committing. Maybe it's similar to our worship of heroes pushing the boundaries and exploring the unknown. I'm bit saying that this exploration of cannibalism is anything that should be equated to the discovery of the new world or the first step on the moon, or even condoned, but perhaps our fascination with this is the very fact that it is indeed pushing the barriers of taboo and perverted behavior that pushes the same buttons.

  4. Here I am trying to eat and finish my homework when I stumble across this post, so thank you for that Stephen. I, like any other normal person, am pretty disgusted by this story not only because he killed and ate an innocent woman, but because an entire society took him in with open arms. Although I do think this story touches base on the fact that people are fascinated by this type of stuff. I mean, there are mainstream movies like Silence of the Lambs that show us cannibalism so I think there is something engrained in us that made us keep on reading this story. Maybe we are intrigued just because the barriers of taboos are being pushed, or maybe its because we are amazed at how someone could throw everything away just to act on an impulse or a feeling that they knew was wrong.......or maybe hes just crazy, who knows.

  5. As a female reading this, I am not only disgusted by his actions, but also slightly paranoid of the existence of this very guy out there. Personally, I'm surprised to find myself intrigued by this story. The media has probably manipulated this very point and thus publicized him: he sells. Let's admit it: He's interesting... in a gruesome, sadomasochistic manner. It is interesting yet thrilling to learn more about him and what he did. It give him this dangerous, mysterious, slightly crazy quality that's almost fictitious, but the fact that he's a real living man makes him alluring.

    According to Freud's "psychosexual development" theory, he's probably fixated in the the "oral stage" where one gets libidinal gratification from their mouth. Oral stage fixation might result in a passive, gullible, immature, manipulative personality. - (wikipedia saids so). This might shed some light on what the hell was going though his mind when he was munching on that poor women.

  6. this whole case is amazing in the sense that this must have been a perfect storm if I have ever seen one. All of the factors that must have to come together to allow this man to parade around the savagery that he committed are probably too intricate and minute to detail. Also, it probably has to do more with luck than anything else in that it's hard to believe that this man himself could get away with this crime again if he wanted to (which he clearly does).

  7. I'm saddened and feel such sorrow for Renée Hartevelt and her family.
    Someone should torture this man for an extended amount of time.
    Let him rest, and then do it again and again. Let him experience hell right now just in case there is no hell when we die.
    Shame on Japan and all the people who let this man exist.

  8. Throw him in a lions cage!


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