Issei Sagawa Now have you ever used the expression “I could murder for something to eat” before? Well, don't you find that this is a somewhat curious expression? One that conjures up a whole host of visual imagery, both benign and terrifying. Moreover, the latter of these two visual facets actually came true, and was chronicled in this 60-minute documentary made in 2007.

Issei Sagawa - Cannibal Killers

This program recounts the real-life and times of cannibalistic Japanese sexual-psychopath, Sagawa, and how he managed to get away with his barbaric crime.

Now to help illustrate his jaded journey, the use of archive footage, voice-over narration, stock photography, and re-enactments are utilized. Plus in additional to this, there’s also a number of interviews carried out as well, with doctors, lawyers, police officials, physiologists, authors, and the man himself, Sagawa.

What now follows is the structured overly that this documentary took:

THE ORIGINS: Born of a frail disposition and a diminutive stature, Sagawa was spoilt rotten by his wealthy parents - whom tended to his every need. At an early age, Sagawa become besotted with Westernised women, and even attacked one, when he plucked up enough courage to break into her apartment, and then bite her on the bottom. Thankfully - the lady in question managed to overpower Sagawa - and he was charged with rape. Unfortunately, though, his father was able to brush away this crime - which subsequently prompted Sagawa to flee to Paris.

THE CRIME: Wealthy Japanese foreign exchange student, Sagawa, went to Paris to study English literature, but ended up satisfying his own baser urges instead. You see, during his time studying at the Sorbonne (a Parisian higher education establishment), he befriended a fellow Dutch student, named Renée Hartevelt, and took her back to his place, shot her, and then ate her. He was eventually arrested for this crime. 

THE AFTERMATH: Caught red handed for killing Renée, the police tried their best to detain Sagawa, holding him for a two-year period. However, over time, Sagawa’s wealthy father paid for a lawyer to get his son out of this situation. Insanity was Sagawa’s plea, a plea that allowed him to run free, all the way back to Japan, where, yet again, Sagawa’s father helped him, so that he could walk the streets like any other Japanese citizen. No questions asked.

THE MEDIA: Adamantly, Sagawa states that he does have some regrets for the crime he committed in Paris, yet he still managed to capitalize on his new-found notoriety by writing books, giving lectures, and starred in a porno too. Today, he lives by himself under an assumed name in a housing complex, surrounded by the luxuries that his wealth has brought him.

THE DIAGNOSIS: Recently, a top physiologist who has studied Sagawa’s case, and still thinks of him as being a sexual psychopath, even though his taste for westernized women has been replaced with one for Japanese women.

You cannot help but cringe whilst you watch  'The Cannibal that Walked Free' - because it tells of a crime that you would have thought very simple to solve. The story is a strange one you see, and it reads as follows: (1) Wealthy Jap goes to Paris and eats some Dutch chick. (2) Wealthy Jap is freed on a technicality due to his wealthy fathers leanings. And (3) Wealthy Jap goes back to Jap-land and lives off of his notoriety.


Now isn't that a nutty story? You just cannot believe that something like this has actually gone on! And to make it even more bizarre, the little bugger is in this program too – Sagawa – and he tells you what he did!

Issei Sagawa
OK, whilst I am disgusted with this development, I am also very fascinated with it as well. Come on - let's face it -  how many times have you heard someone talking about eating someone else? (Did you know people taste like sweetcorn?). In fact, it was very strange to hear him talk, because you could tell that he is a very learned man from his supple disposition.

Fair enough, the poor little bugger (and he is little), does have a revealing and sad origin story to tell also. Nevertheless, this does not really condone his actions – not when you take into account what he did after his crimes - Promote - Promote - Promote - which was is something that the media just ate it up (excuse the pun).

Other b*stards.

Moreover, this latter media frenzy does address a very real problem with today's society as well – because should the media make a celebrity out of villains? Just think about it for a moment – can we as people shy away from the culprits of crimes out of pure ignorance?

Strange dilemma, huh? Strange – perplexing – revealing – and bemusing I find.

Issei Sagawa

Also, another strange thing about this documentary, was the way that it was told.

Now what I mean by this; is that this documentary initially started at the end, and explained to us about the aftermath of the crime. Next, it told us of the lead up to Sagawa’s capture and his crime. After that, it told us of Sagawa’s origins. Penultimately, it told us how he got free. And finally, it went back to the media aftermath.

Issei Sagawa
OK, I can understand why this documentary was told the story in such a circular fashion - so that the viewers stayed hooked from beginning to end. But I do not think that we needed this really - the tale in itself is solid and captivating enough.

Personally speaking, I did find a flaw within this documentary though - and that was because I found it to be a bit too vague where the victim –  Renne – was concerned. Fair enough,  it did state in the show that the victim’s parents did not want any part of this program (which anybody can understand really).  But I am sure that the researches could have delved up something else - more than a black and white photograph and a conceptual overlay on who she was.


Overall, 'The Cannibal that Walked Free' is a very good documentary to watch. It’s well produced, well presented, very informative, perversely entertaining, and is a must see program for all you crime buffs out there who like to see something different from the norm.


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