Issei Sagawa

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Issei Sagawa
Born (1949-04-26) April 26, 1949 (age 65)
Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
Occupation Public speaker, commentator, actor, writer
Criminal charge
Murder, cannibalism (France)
Criminal penalty
Unfit to stand trial by reason of insanity

Issei Sagawa (佐川 一政 Sagawa Issei?, born April 26, 1949)[1] is a Japanese man who in 1981 murdered and cannibalized a Dutch woman named Renée Hartevelt in Paris. After his release, he became a minor celebrity in Japan and made a living through the public's interest in his crime.

Early life[edit]

Sagawa was born in Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, to wealthy parents. He was born prematurely, reportedly small enough to fit in the palm of his father's hand, and was immediately afflicted with enteritis, a disease of the small intestine. He eventually recovered, after several saline injections of potassium and calcium.[2]

In 1977, at the age of 28, Sagawa emigrated to France to pursue a Ph.D. in literature at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris.[2]


Murder of Hartevelt[edit]

Sagawa served time in French prison for the murder of Dutch student Renée Hartevelt, a classmate of Sagawa's at the Sorbonne. On June 11, 1981, Sagawa, then 32, invited Hartevelt to dinner at his 10 Rue Erlanger apartment under the pretext of translating German poetry for a class he was taking. Upon her arrival, after convincing her to begin reading the poetry, he shot her in the neck with a rifle while she sat with her back to him at a desk. At that point he began to carry out his plan to eat her. His first attempt to bite into her buttocks met with failure so he went out to buy a butcher knife.[2] Sagawa has stated he chose Hartevelt for her health and beauty; characteristics Sagawa believed he lacked. Sagawa describes himself as a "weak, ugly, and inadequate little man" (he is just under 5 ft (1.52 m) tall)[3] and claims that he wanted to "absorb her energy".[4]

Sagawa said he fainted after the shock of shooting her, but awoke with the realization that he had to carry out his plan.[2] He did so, beginning with her buttocks and thighs, after having sex with the corpse. In interviews, he noted his surprise at the "corn-colored" appearance of human fat.[3] For two days, Sagawa ate various parts of the body. He described the meat as tasting like raw tuna. He then attempted to dump the mutilated body in a remote lake, but was seen in the act and later arrested by French police, who found parts of the deceased still in his refrigerator.[2]

Sagawa's wealthy father provided a lawyer for his defense, and after being held for two years without trial Sagawa was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by the French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who ordered him held indefinitely in a mental institution.[2] After a visit by the author Inuhiko Yomota, Sagawa's account of the murder was published in Japan under the title In the Fog.[2] Sagawa's subsequent publicity and macabre celebrity likely contributed to the French authorities' decision to have him extradited to Japan. Upon arrival in Japan, he was immediately taken to Matsuzawa hospital, where examining psychologists all found him to be sane, stating that sexual perversion was the sole motivation for the murder.[2] Japanese authorities found it legally impossible to detain him because the French government refused to release court documents (which remain secret) to Japan, claiming that the case had already been dropped in France. As a result, Sagawa checked himself out of the mental institution on August 12, 1986, and has been a free man ever since.[2] Sagawa's freedom has been questioned and criticized by many.[2]


Sagawa now lives in Tokyo and is a minor celebrity in Japan. He was often invited as a guest speaker and commentator between 1986 and 1997.[5] He has also written restaurant reviews for the Japanese magazine Spa.[6] In 1992, he appeared in Hisayasu Sato's exploitation film Uwakizuma: Chijokuzeme (Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture) as a sadosexual voyeur.[7]

Along with books about the murder he committed, Sagawa has written Shonen A, a book on the Kobe child murders of 1997, in which a 14-year-old the media called "Seito Sakakibara" and "Boy A" ("Shōnen A") killed and decapitated a child and attacked several others.[8]

Despite this early freelance work, Sagawa can no longer find publishers for his writing and has been rejected from over 500 different places of employment. Each job application requires writing his résumé out in longhand. He was nearly accepted by a French-language school because the manager was impressed by his courage in using his real name, but employees protested and he was rejected. In 2005, Sagawa's parents died. He was prevented from attending their funeral, but he repaid their creditors and moved into public housing. He received welfare for some time but no longer does.[9] In an interview with Vice magazine in 2009, he expressed suicidal thoughts and said that being forced to make a living while being known as a murderer and cannibal was a terrible punishment.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

  • A 1986 short film by Olivier Smolders called Adoration is based on Sagawa's story.[11] In the same year, the TV channel Viasat Explorer released a 47-minute documentary film called Cannibal Superstar. In 2010, did a short documentary about him, titled VBS Meets: Issei Sagawa.[1]


  1. ^ a b "VBS Meets: Issei Sagawa – Part 1". Vice Media. November 18, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Morris, Steven (September 20, 2007). "Issei Sagawa: Celebrity Cannibal". New Criminologist, the On-line Journal of Criminology (New Criminologist). Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Ramsland, Katherine. "The Cannibal Celebrity: Issei Sagawa". TruTV. Retrieved September 26, 2009. 
  4. ^ Luzajic, Lorette C. "The Sweetest Taboo: An Anthropology of Anthropophagy". Gremolata. Archived from the original on January 25, 2010. 
  5. ^ Kushner, Barak. (1997). "Cannibalizing Japanese Media: The Case of Issei Sagawa". Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 31 (3), p. 56
  6. ^ Henshall, Kenneth G. Dimensions of Japanese society: gender, margins and mainstream. rev.ed. Palgrave Macmillan, London 1999 p.207
  7. ^ "Issei Sagawa". IMDb. Retrieved September 26, 2009. 
  8. ^ Issei Sagawa at Goodreads
  9. ^ 『週刊新潮』2006年2月23日号。
  10. ^ Kosuga, Tomokazu; Lena Oishi, Lena (January 1, 2009). "Who's Hungry?". Vice Magazine. 
  11. ^ Knoll, Paul (April 25, 2007). "Bard of Brooklyn". Metro Times. Retrieved September 26, 2009. 

External links[edit]