The FAM: VBS Meets Issei Sagawa

Warning: This film is not for the faint of heart, the faint of stomach, or the easily offended. Make the decision to click the play button accordingly.

On June 11, 1981 a Dutch student named Renée Hartevelt arrived at an apartment at 10 Rue Erlanger She had been invited there by a classmate at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris, France. The classmate was 32 year-old Issei Sagawa. Not long after she arrived he shot her in the neck with a rifle while she sat at a desk with her back to him. Afterward he had sex with her corpse and, over the course of the next two days, proceeded to eat much of her body.

He was held without trial for two years after his arrest until he was declared legally insane (and thereby unfit to stand trial) by French psychiatrists and confined to a mental institution. While there, his account of the crime was published in Japan as In The Fog. His new celebrity was no doubt a determining factor in the French authorities’ decision to extradite him to Japan. There, he was examined once again by psychiatrists who declared him sane but “evil”. Due to a technicality, in which Japanese authorities cited the lack of certain papers supposed to have been provided by French courts, they found it impossible to hold him and on August 12, 1986 Sagawa checked himself out of the mental institution.

For the past 24 years he’s been living in Tokyo. He is still a minor celebrity and has written over twenty books, mostly having to do with his own crimes or commentary on the crimes of others. He’s also been in a few exploitative films and sells his paintings, most of which are portraits of women. This is where VBS meets him then, seemingly running out the tail end of his notoriety and not particularly hopeful for the future. Vice does a commendable job in staying completely out of the way and letting the man speak for himself. Sagawa, for his part, has spent most of his life reflecting on one event and, as is usually the case with interviews of murderers, he has no real answers to provide.

Throughout, Sagawa speaks at length about his disgust both with himself and the public whose interest in the macabre has allowed him to flourish for so long. The last few minutes are of him describing how he would like to die in excruciating pain. It would have been easy for VBS to leave us with that sentiment; the image of the fiend undone by the horrors he has committed. Instead, the last image we see is of Renée Hartevelt, from whom everything was taken and whose death has made everything in Issei Sagawa’s life possible.

7 Responses to “The FAM: VBS Meets Issei Sagawa”

  1. Tweets that mention Coilhouse » Blog Archive » The FAM: VBS Meets Issei Sagawa -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by coilhouse, Roberto. Roberto said: A bizarra história de Issei Sagawa #Gore, via Coilhouse […]

  2. Merveilleuse Says:

    That was so horrible. Unfortunately, I can absolutely believe that people’s own greedy interest in a monstrosity such as Issei Sagawa made it possible for him to flourish… it’s unbelievable and yet completely believable. It makes me question myself – by my own morbid interest in watching this, am I supporting this man?

    Watching this raised many really difficult questions.

  3. Naz Says:

    ….There’s so many things at work here that I can’t even fully talk about. I mean. The guy is a creep. that’s a given. BUT on the other hand It’s a bizzare culture you live in when people are looking up to actual cannibalistic murderers and other criminals as “celebrities”. The American Equivalent of this would the BTK guy getting his own fandom.
    I think that was one of oddest things I’ve ever witnessed in film and I’ve seen alot of films.

  4. Nadya Says:

    OK, so the only thing I have in the fridge right now is this rare steak. I started watching this documentary before bed, then felt hungry. I went to the fridge, took out the steak, looked at it, shook my head, and put it back in the fridge. I am now going to bed hungry. Damn you, Ross!

  5. marion Says:

    Wow, nice work from Vice (something I never thought I would say). This was compelling, but not in the staring-at-a-car-wreck way. But it was just so horrifying to me, I could not understand why anyone would validate such a crime by publishing or purchasing his books/working with this man in any context other than that of trying to get him committed.

    However, I do think it’s important to watch/read about these things, if you can, so you at least aren’t ignorant of what people are capable of doing. Hopefully that makes sense?

    (Full disclosure: I actually had to watch a few of these:
    before I could STOP THINKING about this. Link included only due to the absence of an official unicorn chaser.)

  6. Meredith Yayanos Says:

    Ugh. Definitely a “look long enough into the void the void begins to look back through you” piece of work (both the documentary and Sagawa himself). That’s definitely my mindset after watching this.

  7. Linking Horn: 4 Bloody Weeks Till Christmas Says:

    […] 1986. A minor celebrity, he’s since written over 20 books and sells his portraits of women. VBS has made a film about Sagawa/, including interviews, which Coilhouse has reviewed. Not for the faint of […]