Issei Sagawa

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Issei Sagawa
Born (1949-04-26) April 26, 1949 (age 71)
Height1.65 m (5 ft 5 in)
Criminal charge(s)Attempted murder, cannibalism (falsely identified as attempted rape by officials) (Japan)
Criminal statusUnfit to stand trial by reason of insanity
DateJune 11, 1981
LocationParis, France
WeaponHunting rifle

Issei Sagawa (佐川 一政, Sagawa Issei, born April 26, 1949),[1] also known as Pang or The Kobe Cannibal, is a Japanese murderer, cannibal, and necrophile. While living in Paris in 1981, killed and cannibalized a Dutch woman. He was released after two years of pre-trial detention upon being found legally insane.

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 immediately developed enteritis, a disease of the small intestine. He eventually recovered after several injections of potassium and calcium in saline.[2]

Sagawa first experienced cannibalistic desires while in the first grade, after seeing a male's thigh.[3] In a 2011 interview with Vice, Sagawa reported that as a youth he partook in bestiality with his dog and experienced cannibalistic desires for women.[4]

At 24, in Tokyo, Sagawa followed a tall German woman home, then broke into her apartment while she was sleeping with intent to cannibalize her by slicing off part of her buttocks and sneaking away with a small part of her flesh. She awoke and, Sagawa claims, pushed him to the ground. He was captured by police and charged with attempted rape. He did not confess his true intentions to authorities.[4]

In 1977, at the age of 27, Sagawa moved to France to pursue a Ph.D. in literature at the Sorbonne in Paris.[2] He has said that while residing in Paris, "Almost every night I would bring a prostitute home and then try to shoot them, but for some reason my fingers froze up and I couldn't pull the trigger."[3]

Killing of Hartevelt[edit]

On June 11, 1981, Sagawa, then 32, invited his Sorbonne classmate Renée Hartevelt to dinner at his apartment at 10 Rue Erlanger, under the pretext of translating poetry for a school assignment. He planned to kill and eat her, having selected her for her health and beauty - characteristics he felt he lacked. Sagawa considered himself weak, ugly, and small (he was 144.8 cm (4 ft 9 in) tall)[5] and claims he wanted to absorb her energy. She was 25 years old and 178 cm (5 ft 10 in).[6] After she arrived, she began reading poetry at a desk with her back to him. He shot her in the neck with a rifle. 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 had sex with her corpse but he could not bite into her skin because his teeth were not sharp enough, so he left the apartment and purchased a butcher knife.[2] Sagawa ate various parts of her body, eating most of her breasts and face, saving other parts in his refrigerator. He also took photographs of her at each eating stage.[7] He then attempted to dump her body in a lake in the Bois de Boulogne, but was seen in the act and arrested by French police.[2][8] When he was caught, he was carrying two suitcases. Those suitcases contained the dismembered body parts of Renée Hartevelt.

Sagawa's wealthy father provided a lawyer for his defense, and after being held for two years awaiting 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 his kill 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 deport him to Japan, where he was immediately committed to Matsuzawa hospital. Examining psychologists there all declared him sane and found sexual perversion was his sole motivation for murder.[2] Because charges in France had been dropped, the French court documents were sealed and were not released to Japanese authorities; consequently Sagawa could not legally be detained in Japan. He checked himself out of the hospital on August 12, 1986, and remains free.[2] Sagawa's continued freedom has been widely criticized.[2]


Between 1986 and 1997 he was frequently invited to be a guest speaker and commentator.[9] In 1992, he appeared in Hisayasu Sato's exploitation film Uwakizuma: Chijokuzeme (Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture) as a sado-sexual voyeur.[10] Sagawa has written books about the murder he committed, as well as Shonen A, a book on the 1997 Kobe child murders.[11][unreliable source] He has also written restaurant reviews for the Japanese magazine Spa.[12] Sagawa can no longer find publishers for his writing and he has struggled to find employment. 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 repaid their creditors and moved into public housing. He received welfare benefits for a time.[13] In an interview with Vice magazine in 2011, he said that being forced to make a living while being known as a murderer and cannibal was a terrible punishment.[3] In 2013, he was hospitalized from a cerebral infarction, which permanently damaged his nervous system. Since being released, he has been under the full-time care of his brother.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Three documentary films featuring Sagawa have been produced: Excuse Me for Living (Channel 4, UK, 1993, 60 minutes); The Cannibal That Walked Free (Channel 5, UK, 2007, 46 minutes) and Interview with a Cannibal (Vice, US, 2011, 34 minutes).
  • A 1986 short film by Olivier Smolders, Adoration, is based on Sagawa's story,[14] as is a 1986 short documentary, Cannibal Superstar, released by the TV channel Viasat Explorer. VBS Meets: Issei Sagawa, a short documentary about him, aired on in 2010.[15]
  • "Too Much Blood", a song on the Rolling Stones' 1983 album Undercover, is about Sagawa and violence in the media. His crime also inspired the Stranglers' 1981 song "La Folie". The Noise Black Metal band Gnaw Their Tongues also released an EP titled Issei Sagawa in 2006.
  • Sagawa's crimes, and his later career as an actor, were discussed in the 2015 documentary Fear Itself by filmmaker Charlie Lyne.
  • Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor co-produced a film about Sagawa called Caniba, which was shown at the 2017 Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals to mixed reviews from the public.[16]


  1. ^ "Issei Sagawa: Cannibal Killer". Learning History. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  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 July 14, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Kosuga, Tomokazu; Lena Oishi, Lena (January 1, 2009). "Who's Hungry?". Vice Magazine.
  4. ^ a b "Interview with a Cannibal". Vice Magazine.
  5. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "The Cannibal Celebrity: Issei Sagawa". TruTV. Archived from the original on July 17, 2009.
  6. ^ Luzajic, Lorette C. "The Sweetest Taboo: An Anthropology of Anthropophagy". Gremolata. Archived from the original on January 25, 2010.
  7. ^ "Incendie, suicide, cannibalism: la maudite rue Erlanger". L'Express (in French). February 6, 2019.
  8. ^ "Murderer, cannibal, celebrity: Inside the mind of Issei Sagawa". Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  9. ^ Kushner, Barak. (1997). "Cannibalizing Japanese Media: The Case of Issei Sagawa". Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 31 (3), p. 55-57
  10. ^ "Issei Sagawa". IMDb. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  11. ^ Issei Sagawa at Goodreads
  12. ^ Henshall, Kenneth G. Dimensions of Japanese society: gender, margins and mainstream. rev.ed. Palgrave Macmillan, London 1999 p.207
  13. ^ 『週刊新潮』2006年2月23日号。
  14. ^ Knoll, Paul (April 25, 2007). "Bard of Brooklyn". Metro Times. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  15. ^ "VICE MEETS ISSEI SAGAWA". Vice. November 18, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  16. ^ Lodge, Guy (September 19, 2017). "Film Review: 'Caniba'". Variety. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved September 30, 2018.

External links[edit]