As part of its ongoing series called "The Postwar History of 100 Million Japanese," Sunday Mainichi (March 22) tracks down Issei Sagawa, also known as the "Paris Cannibal." In June 1981, while he was studying literature at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris, French police arrested Sagawa for the murder of Renee Hartevelt, a 25-year-old Dutch student. In news that shocked Japan, Sagawa confessed to having eaten parts of her body, some raw and some that he cooked with seasoning in a frying pan.
The French judiciary was eventually persuaded not to prosecute Sagawa for the murder due to his frail mental condition, and in 1984 he was permitted to return to Japan. Sunday Mainichi provided detailed coverage in its issue of June 10, 1984 under the headline "Seventeen hours together with the man who ate the flesh of a beautiful woman," which was based on transcriptions during his flight between Paris and Narita airport.
Nearly 30 years have passed, and Sagawa, now age 65, currently lives alone in a small (1LDK) apartment in Kawasaki City. In November 2013, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and requires assistance, which is provided by a caregiver or Sagawa's younger brother.
In a voice that fluctuates in volume, Sagawa relates how he first became acquainted with Renee in Paris in May 1981. On June 1, he invited her to his apartment, where he served her a meal of sukiyaki. The killing took place in the same place 10 days later.
According to Sunday Mainichi's initial coverage, an 8-page article that appeared in its issue of July 5, 1981, Sagawa had propositioned Rene, who refused, saying she was committed to someone else. Sagawa had then told the police he took a small-caliber rifle that he kept for self-protection, and shot her from behind. (This contradicts other accounts that he had enticed her to his apartment by offering to pay her to make voice recordings of German poetry, and shot her while her back was turned.)
"When I think back on how gentle Renee was, I ask myself why I did what I did, and there's no end to my feelings of bitterness," Sagawa reflects. "But I wanted to eat her. That doesn't mean I wanted to kill her, but I came to the realization that in order to eat her, I had to kill her."
But, Sagawa is pressed, wouldn't he have been content to have been given some part of her body, such as her hair or fingernail clippings, to eat?
"If I think about it now, if, instead of her flesh, I'd been able to obtain her pubic hairs or urine and put them in my mouth I might have been satisfied. But I wasn't able to bring myself to ask -- I guess I was afraid my asking her for it would have disgusted her."
Sagawa had harbored his perverted urges from childhood, where he learned about cannibalism from a fairy tale. As he became aware of his urge to consume human flesh, Sagawa never consulted a psychiatrist.
In 1972, before going to study in Paris, Sagawa had been charged with attempted rape for having broken into the apartment of a German woman in Tokyo. His motive, however, had not been sex.
"If I had undergone therapy from that time, I suppose the incident in Paris probably wouldn't have happened," Sagawa tells Sunday Mainichi.
And how about these days? Does Sagawa still think about emulating Dr Hannibal Lecter?
"Looking at the sun radiating through trees, I thought, how pretty it looks," he says. "My life seems to have been a series of a recurring episodes of contradictory feelings, such as 'I want to eat it' and 'Eating it is forbidden.' Now is the first time in my life to have such tranquil feelings.
"After I recover physically, I want to go to the Shinjuku branch of the Kinokuniya bookstore, buy a book and eat eel."
Despite such feelings, Sagawa says he has recently become obsessed with an actress appearing in a morning TV drama series, referred to only by the initials T.M.
"I'll catch a glimpse of her thigh and think, 'That sure looks tasty.' But I don't feel like I actually want to eat it," he remarks. "As I accomplished the act of cannibalism once, there's no meaning to maintaining the desire for it anymore. In my book, I wrote that it [human flesh] was tasty, but that was not really true; I'd much rather eat Matsuzaka (Kobe) beef. But because I'd desired to consume human flesh for so long, I'd managed to convince myself that it would necessarily be delicious."© Japan Today