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'Paris Cannibal' Sagawa still hungers for attention

"I invited her to join me for some Japanese food. But Japanese restaurants [in Paris] were expensive, so I said I'd prepare sukiyaki at home. No one else came along, and usually a girl would be on her guard to be alone with a man at his place, but Renee was completely at ease.

"The sukiyaki got burnt and stuck to the pot, and while she stood at the sink washing it, I got this feeling while looking at her from behind --- I don't know why --- that she looked like a whore, and I was overcome with this compulsion to eat her."

So he did. With a completely detached mien, as if he were talking about another person, Issei Sagawa conveys to writer-photographer Noboru Hashimoto in Jitsuwa Knuckles (October) the details of the 1981 crime that got him enshrined in the Hall of Gustatory Infamy along with Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

His victim was 25-year-old Renee Hartevelt, a literature student from the Netherlands of Jewish background, who was, like Sagawa, enrolled at the Sorbonne. The murder weapon was a small-caliber rifle fired at the back of her head from close range. After having sex with her corpse, he then carved up portions of her body and ate them. He described the taste of the raw flesh as resembling "tuna sashimi." Other parts were stored in the refrigerator and cooked after garnishing with salt and pepper. And sorry, but any further descriptions of this creepy cook's macabre meal will have to be entrusted to another translator, folks. In fact, I'm shutting down until the urge to regurgitate subsides.

[Okay, I'm back.]

By his own account, Sagawa loaded the unconsumed remains of Hartevelt's corpse into two suitcases and transported them into a park. While discarding the evidence of his grisly crime in the shrubbery, he was spotted by an amorous couple, who informed the police, describing the perpetrator an Asian, standing 160cm tall and almost emaciated in appearance (Sagawa weighed just 35 kilograms at the time.) He was tracked down and arrested soon thereafter.

Found not guilty by reason of insanity, he was confined to a mental hospital but expelled from France and allowed to return to Japan after a year.

While members of the public reacted to Sagawa's antics with a kind of morbid curiosity, the reaction by some of those who encountered him personally was more visceral. They found him not only dislikable, but loathsome to the extreme.

To get out of the job, one cameraman ordered by a weekly photo magazine to cover Sagawa was even said to have feigned alcoholism and hospitalized.

More than 10 books were published about him. One was an autobiographical, self-illustrated account of his crime. Another was a compendium of letters between the hospitalized Sagawa and a famous dramatist that was awarded the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize. This, Hashimoto writes, helped to solidify Sagawa's identity as an eater of human flesh, while at the same time encouraging him to engage in buffoonery.

And engage he did. After his discharge from a Tokyo hospital, Sagawa subsequently worked at earning a well-deserved reputation as Japan's "celebrity cannibal," with an appearance in an adult video, as a guest on TV talk shows and in the print media.

"His sole claim to fame," Hashimoto tells Jitsuwa Knuckles readers, "was one that no one else could make: that he had eaten another human being."

Sagawa currently lives on an inheritance from his father and his writings. Most Japanese media avoid him now, but he still earns stipends from foreign camera crews that come to Japan to request him to appear in tabloid-style documentaries.

A photo in Jitsuwa Knuckles shows the bespectacled Sagawa standing outside a store window, admiring the legs of a female mannequin.

"When I see a beautiful girl while riding the train, I feel like eating her," he confesses.

There's no explaining the madness --- the cowardice and desires --- that drove him to cannibalism. His twisted sexual urges toward women. It is here, Hashimoto writes, where Issei Sagawa's sole existence is to be found. (By Masuo Kamiyama, contributing writer)

(Mainichi Japan) October 2, 2007


WaiWai stories are transcriptions of articles that originally appeared in Japanese language publications. The Mainichi Daily News cannot be held responsible for the contents of the original articles, nor does it guarantee their accuracy. Views expressed in the WaiWai column are not necessarily those held by the Mainichi Daily News or the Mainichi Newspapers Co. WaiWai © Mainichi Newspapers Co. 1989-2007.

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