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Issei Sagawa: poet, artist, cannibal

Issei Sagawa
Issei Sagawa

Have you ever met a soft spoken, slightly eccentric, bashful artist? If you’ve ever taken a drawing 101 class in college, chances are you probably have. He sits in the back of the class and scribbles into a moleskin sketchbook, casually observing his surroundings and occasionally, makes genius comments about the political ramifications of Dadaism. You think to yourself, wow, he’s so misunderstood. He probably just needs a friend to introduce him to the social aspects of college life. I bet he’s probably really cool.

While you might be right and enjoy a few laughs while strolling through an art exhibit; you might be wrong and he lures you to his apartment where he shoots you in the back and eats you for dinner.
In 1981, Issei Sagawa was an artist and poet studying at the Censier Institute in Paris. He was short (under 5 feet tall,) frail, effeminate, and had a high girlish voice; not particularly a catch, but benign enough for a young, fellow student, Renee Hartevelt, to take pity on him. She agreed to teach him German and the two even went to a couple art exhibits together.

By all accounts, Hartevelt was an extremely benevolent, intelligent young woman if not slightly naive; however, how threatening could an effeminate, Japanese man the size of a leprechaun really be? Unfortunately, not threatening enough; Hartevelt never saw it coming. While stooped over reading poetry on Sagawa’s couch, he approached her from behind and shot her in the back. He then proceeded to eat various parts of her body, saying,"[It] melted in my mouth like raw tuna in a sushi restaurant."
Feeling pretty pleased with himself, Sagawa dismembered the body and kept it in the freezer, preparing it in several different ways, experimenting with various cooking techniques until the police arrived at his apartment two days later. After discovering Hartevelt’s body, police immediately arrested Sagawa and placed him in jail. Due to the horrific nature of the crime and Sagawa’s total break from reality (he believed Hartevelt was alive, encouraging him to eat her,) the judge moved to skip a trial and put Sagawa in an insane asylum for life. So, in other words, even the judge didn’t want to stare in the face of evil.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Well, thank God this guy isn’t walking the streets. Excuse me while I go back to watching Mythbusters- there’s a marathon on.”
Yeah, not so fast buddy. Sagawa’s father pulled a few strings and got his son sent back to Japan to spend the rest of his sentence there. But, due to some technicalities and misplaced paperwork, Sagawa was released after serving only fifteen months.
Now you’re thinking, “Oh, well, he must have been run out of town by the terrified masses wielding pitch forks and torches. He probably lives as a social outcast, completely removed from society. I’m gonna be just fine.”
Au Contraire, mon frère. Not only does Sagawa walk freely through the streets of Tokyo, he’s actually pretty famous. He’s a prolific artist and exhibits his work to rave reviews, he’s written four novels, starred in several pornographic films, edited an anthology of cannibalism, and was featured on the cover of a Japanese gourmet magazine (no, not kidding…) He’s a fixture in Japanese media and grants interviews where he candidly describes his crimes and has even admitted that he still craves the taste of a woman, specifically a tall, blonde Western one (oh, did I mention he has a passport?)
Ultimately, Sagawa still manages to get young women to pose nude for him, because of course, his favorite subject is the fleshy, female derriere.

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