Ep 12 Issei Sagawa: The Annoying Cannibal

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Issei Sagawa being “funny”

He’s the person who shows up uninvited.  He’s the guy who has convinced himself that he is inherently fascinating, and he wants you to know it.  He’s the little man with a chip on his shoulder who believes women ignore him because of his appearance and not because of his off-putting and bothersome nature.  He’s the adult trust fund baby who has never needed to find a job.  He’s the fly that will not stop landing on your food.  He is Issei Sagawa, and in 1981 he ate somebody.

Issei was born prematurely to a wealthy Japanese family in 1949.  He was a small, frail child with a head that was noticeably too large for his petite frame.  Though his head seemingly continued growing throughout his life, his body never did catch up.  Even as an adult, Issei stood at just under 5 feet tall.

Issei’s family never spoke with him about sex, and he was not exposed to information about the mechanics of copulation until far too late in life.  At puberty, he was convinced that his first erections were symptoms of a medical issue.  Having never managed to teach himself to masturbate during these sexually formative years, he by happenstance became aware that he enjoyed the sensation derived from having his genitals licked by the family dog.  During this period, and by some accounts even before, Issei was fantasizing about eating the flesh of another human.

Issei’s cannibalistic fantasies fused themselves to his increasingly peculiar sexual fantasies.  In 1972 at the age of 23, Issei decided to bring his unrelatable daydreams into the real world.  He broke into the home of a young woman intending to knock her out with an umbrella before slicing a hunk of meat from her buttocks.  Possibly the most intriguing part of this plan was that Issei believed himself physically capable, at under 5 feet tall and weighing roughly 100 pounds, of rendering someone unconscious with an umbrella.  Issei’s plan failed and he was arrested for attempted rape.  It would be years before his true intent would be revealed.

Renée Hartevelt

At 28 Issei moved to Paris France to study literature.  There, he met a kind-hearted young woman named Renée Hartevelt.  Despite Issei’s leering, awkward advances, and general unsavoriness, Renée took pity on this tiny Japanese man with the oversized head.  She would convince her friends to invite him out, and she would sometimes even visit Issei’s apartment after he’d requested her help with various academic quandaries.  Issei seldom failed to take advantage of Renée’s charity.  She would often be met during these meetings with music coming from Issei’s record player and to find Issei preparing a romantic meal.  In the space between his meetings with Renée, Issei had been hiring prostitutes with whom he pantomimed murder.

Every time they used the toilet, and had their backs to me, I had the gun but I could not pull the trigger. It was not for a moral or a religious reason: I was scared that by pulling the trigger I would be giving into my desires. But it was more than a desire – it was more of an obligation. It was something that I would have to do in the end.

During her last visit to Issei’s apartment, Issei asked Renée to read a poem named Abend by Johannes Becher.  Note: We hired a translator to transcribe the poem in English as we could find no available translation and because Google’s automated translation service transformed the poem into gibberish.  Our translator seemingly did a shitty job as well, but this is likely the best you’re gonna get.   

Buried under the beam of the planet
I lay, I was a place, past and many a face,
I moaned in the Prophet’s lament,
and was as loud as a dog and a voice in court.

The day passes again and already the
boat of the white moon anchors far away,
soon a semblance will be placed around my forehead
and a great glory of the future glory threatens me.

I’ve suffered enough of this hard time,
since I was conceived, cowardly and defiled,
we glided over land on rails of light.
We aim at you. Like discs that are attached.

Now it comes out of a weak chest, ransacked by raging,
warm breath is separated into cool twilight,
so I will gladly praise the mighty lords,
the one that heads to the west with the red sun.

He drives home the blood-swollen animal,
that wrapped around the cities at day and ate
brains with evil greed till it was satisfied,
as it ripped open the ground until tussock,

and meadows began to burn, and pointed forests screamed,
when the roofs burst open and the rivers foam
and boil, kneeling in front of a dreamy hill
till they swell, till they could hardly breathe.

Now it crawls winking and full of true remorse,
not grumbling in the gray mountains stall.
Now the star shines in holy blue
as the tip of the rod and the wall

From clouds, the dress folds,
it shimmers and dissolves, gets blown away.
A streak of the rough door twitches from the column.
it growls dully, it stands guard.

Abend by Johannes Becher

While Renée read the poem, Issei quietly produced a silenced .22 rifle and shot Renée in the back of the head.  Issei has claimed that after he fired the shot, Renée continued reading for a few seconds before falling out of her chair, face up, onto the floor.  Shocked by the scene he’d created, Issei fainted. When Issei awoke, he devastated Renée Hartvelt’s corpse.  He raped her, carved enormous amounts of flesh from her, much of which he bagged and placed into his freezer, he removed her nipples, carved out her anus, and he even sliced off Renée’s nose.  Issei took approximately 30 photos of this process to which he would later masturbate.

I wanted to eat her buttocks, but I had to flip her over and she was heavy. I tried to bite into her buttocks, but the flesh was too hard. I tried to use a fruit knife, but that didn’t work either, so I went out and bought a curved knife.

Eventually, Issei needed to dispose of what was left of Renée.  His plan for doing so was every bit as ill-conceived as the plan in which he intended to bring about unconsciousness in another person by hitting that person with an umbrella.  Issei dismembered Renée and placed her into two large suitcases, both of which were too heavy for the diminutive man to carry alone.  So, Issei dragged the suitcases.  He dragged them to a Taxi, and then to and through a heavily trafficked public park in Paris called the Bois De Boulogne.  The sun was still out.  He made a spectacle of himself, often being offered help with his luggage.  Believing he was not being observed within the bustling park, Issei shoved both suitcases off of a hill and near, but not quite in, the small lake into which he’d intended to deposit them.  Unsurprisingly, a man nearby observed Issei shoving the suitcases off of the incline and asked Issei if the suitcases were his.  To this Issei replied, “No” and then ran away.

The peculiar looking and easily describable little man who had been seen by dozens of people dragging two suitcases through the park was arrested a few days later.  He was sentenced to an indefinite stay in a psychiatric facility.  Nowhere in the world though do laws apply in equal measure to both the wealthy and to those of lesser means.  After being financially backed by his family and after having received a sprinkle of luck, Issei Sagawa was back in Japan and he was free.

Having finally done something interesting and noteworthy, Issei enjoyed a stint of celebrity.  He appeared on talk shows and even on cooking shows to muse about having killed, raped, eaten, and destroyed the remains of the only person in Paris who tolerated his ego and his generally insufferable personality.  Issei appeared in pornography films in which his partner would only be informed of Issei’s history after having been fucked by him.  The Rolling Stones even penned and recorded a song about Issei that was so bad that one might be inclined to pity Mick Jagger for having to live with the knowledge of his part in the creation of an abomination.   

Issei is now in his 70s.  His celebrity and the money which it produced have dried up.  He is partially paralyzed due a cerebral infarction and he is entirely dependent on his brother, Jun.   


Brottman, M., 1966. (1998). Meat is murder : An illustrated guide to cannibal culture. England: Retrieved from http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006001484

Helm, L. (1992-06-28T00:00:00-0700). Seeing japan ‘through the eyes of a cannibal’ : Celebrity: Confessed killer is free–even popular. his story tells of a country’s morbid fascination with sexual perversion and death. Los Angeles Times Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-06-28-mn-2009-story.html

Issei sagawa: Celebrity cannibal. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.newcriminologist.com/article.asp?nid=17

Japan, meet woody allen. (1982, -04-18). The New York Times Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1982/04/18/business/japan-meet-woody-allen.html

Kaplan, M. (2018, -10-20T18:48:28+00:00). Meet the cannibal who became a folk hero in japan. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2018/10/20/issei-sagawa-the-cannibal-who-became-a-folk-hero-in-japan/

Kushner, B. (1997). Cannibalizing japanese media: The case of issei sagawa. Journal of Popular Culture, 31(3), 55-68. Retrieved from http://libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mlf&AN=2000070024&site=eds-live&scope=site

Martingale, M. (1993). Cannibal killers: The impossible monsters Quetzalcoatl Publishing.

‘Paris cannibal’ sagawa still hungers for attention. (2007). Mainichi Daily News, Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20071227020743/http://mdn.mainichi.jp/culture/waiwai/archive/news/2007/10/20071002p2g00m0dm004000c.html

Ryall, J. (2013, Dec 8). Poetic justice? issei sagawa, who escaped prosecution for murdering and eating a fellow student, has lived off his notoriety for three decades. but as his star fades, is the japanese cannibal finally paying the price, wonders julian ryall.. South China Morning Post Retrieved from https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:5D7W-9V81-JC8V-10KN-00000-00&context=1516831

Interview with a cannibal. Vice (Director). (2012, June).[Video/DVD] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BosZxa1bYcE&bpctr=1558721268

霧の中 ~ in the fog. Retrieved from https://bookreviewsjapan.wordpress.com/

One thought on “Ep 12 Issei Sagawa: The Annoying Cannibal

Add yours

  1. Kevin’s pure distaste of Issei was both righteous, hilarious, and 100% deserved. Thanks for teaching me about someone disturbing that I’ve never heard of! I will be googling now for the next few hours.


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