It’s bizarre that so few have heard of Issei Sagawa, whose story is not only fascinating for its strange and unusual twists and turns but also because, well, it happened.
Sometimes referred to as the Japanese Celebrity Cannibal, Sagawa’s story is something straight out of fiction—a tale of horror that might as well have been pulled from extravagant gonzo literature, with pop-art elements.
It’s a tale of dreams cut short, murder, violence, death, and one of the most extreme cases of injustice the world has ever seen.
What began as a study-abroad opportunity for Sagawa ended decades later with his life forever changed, made into a celebrity cannibal who has appeared in movies and TV shows and has written books about his crime.
It was one of the substantial international spectacles of our age and has mostly flown under the radar. Sagawa is a man almost designed for shock and exhibition, as we will soon see. Here are ten facts about the Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa.
Top 1: Things Haven’t Changed
Issei Sagawa would extend an open invitation to his female fans and haters alike: If they want to, try to kill him. The famous last words of the German serial killer Peter Kurten, as he approached the guillotine to certain death by the executioner, were, “Tell me.
After my head has been chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my blood gushing from the stump of my neck?
That would be a pleasure to end all pleasures.”In a statement that similarly echoes those eerie words, Sagawa would go on record tauntingly saying: I would like to invite any woman who wants to kill me to step forward. Beautiful women only.
That would be the ideal way for me to die. Maybe they can shoot me up with morphine so that I don’t feel any pain—although I guess the pain is part of the pleasure.
Dying instantly is boring, so I want to savor the process of being killed. An alternative would be to drown in female saliva. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to be covered all over in women’s spit?
If I could die drowning in it, that would be my ultimate dream come true. I’m a cowardly man who killed another person, yet I can’t face killing myself. So, I guess dying at the hands of a woman would be my way to redemption
Top 2: Celebrity
After his release on August 12, 1986, Sagawa returned to a world where he was embraced by the public, with newfound notoriety as a small-time Japanese celebrity.
Issei would go on to author several books, participate in game shows in Japan, and more.
He would become a guest speaker at many places and even used his newfound fame to appear in an exploitation film, playing a character not unlike himself in a movie titled Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture.
In this film, Sagawa portrayed a bloodthirsty and cruel sexual predator, much like himself or Marquis de Sade. As a bizarre testament to Japanese culture and our modern zeitgeist, Sagawa would even become a freelance food critic.
Sagawa would also become an artist, composing nude paintings and other such art from his apartment in Tokyo. He was on the road to success.
From scholar of literature and drifter to imprisoned cannibal and then ultimately to Japanese celebrity household name, Issei Sagawa certainly has one of the most exciting tales of our time.
Top 3: Trial And Freedom
Sagawa didn’t deny anything, not in the slightest. He openly admitted to killing and eating the 25-year-old Dutch girl who had been studying abroad and giving him German lessons in her free time.
He confessed, “I killed her, and I ate her flesh,” in his typically mild, undisturbed manner. Sagawa was arrested and brought up on charges of first-degree murder, understandably.
The police and the prosecutor had a perfect case; the defendant had confessed to murder and cannibalism. But fate would see to it that the story of Issei Sagawa didn’t end here, and a French judge would rule the man legally insane and unfit to stand trial.
Sagawa would be deported from France and sent back to Japan, where he would be locked in an asylum while Japanese authorities figured out what to do with him.
The authorities would try to go ahead and press charges, but a loophole in Japanese law made it impossible for them to do so.
It also didn’t help that the French authorities wouldn’t turn over any of their relevant documents. All Japan could do was send Sagawa to an asylum, where he would eventually be declared mentally competent and released, free again to roam the streets of Tokyo.
Top 4: The Murder
It was the night of June 11, 1981, in Paris. The time had come for Issei Sagawa to finally carry out the fantasy he’d been harboring like a monster in the closet since childhood; it was time for murder… And cannibalism.
He had fallen in love with a tall Dutch woman by the name of Renee Hartevelt in recent months, and, considering that his goal was a Ph.D. in literature and that he was an avid student of language, she thought nothing of it when he asked her to teach him some German.
She would come over to his house, and he would pay her for language lessons for a while. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, Sagawa decided it was his time to live the fantasies he’d had all these years.
He had bought a gun, and it was time he killed Renee Hartevelt. He shot her in the back of the neck. Issei claims to have fainted afterward. When he woke up, he raped her corpse.
He would then proceed to finally fulfill what he saw as his destiny by dismembering her body and eating her. He would remove over 7 kilograms (15 lb) of her flesh and eat her over the next three days.
Bois De Boulogne, a park in Paris, was no stranger to odd things happening. It was a place where many streetwalking types, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and other criminals would frequent.
Sagawa was seen by many such people entering the park with two suitcases. The suitcases, of course, contained the remains of Renee Hartevelt.
She had been dismembered and cannibalized. Being as short as he was, Issei was easily unmistakable. Knowing he’d been seen, he fled back home and waited for arrest.
Top 5: Paris Nights
Though a brilliant student and highly intelligent student, Sagawa failed his entrance exam for the very highly ranked Japanese university that he had attempted to gain acceptance into. After this, he decided to study abroad.
Sagawa chose to study literature and language in Paris. This would lay the foundation for what was about to unfold—one of the most shocking stories of the 20th century. Issei wanted, above all, to seek a doctorate in literature at the Sorbonne in France.