Have you ever been so attracted to someone you’ve wanted to devour them? When the mind focuses so much in the object of their desire we lose sight of reality. In the case of Issei Sagawa, his obsession towards classmate Renee Hartevel went beyond any expected level of fixation. The acts that followed were so shocking that The Rolling Stones wrote a song after Sagawa ate his peer.
In the eighties, Sagawa was a wealthy student living in Paris when he met Renee, from Holland. They shared classes at the university and Sagawa would invite Renee on the pretense of studying together. Despite standing out as a smart and capable English Literature student, Sagawa admitted in subsequent interviews that he had never been seen as attractive by women. So he would use certain tactics to get their attention. At the time he was 25 years-old, spoke three languages, and was getting his PhD in Paris. It seemed like he had a promising future. One day he asked Renee to tutor him for German; in exchange, he would help her with another subject.
Their meetings became more frequent: they’d go out dancing, to a museum, and visit each other constantly. Then on July 11, 1981 all hell broke loose. Sagawa declared his love for Renee while they had dinner in his apartment. She rejected him. Consumed by rage, Sagawa took a rifle while Harvetel read a book of poems, and shot her in the neck.
Seizing on the body in front of him, Sagawa started to dismember it. He began by cutting her nose and left nipple. “I cut her hip,” is one of the claims he’d make in his book In the Fog, where he narrates his actions with great detail. He would describe the texture of the flesh, comparing its taste to “a rich raw fish, like sushi." "I’ve never eaten anything more delicious,” said the subsequently named Cannibal of Paris.
The authorities arrested Issei Sagawa a few days later. Despite his sentence to an undefined period at Paul Guiraud Asylum, his father’s influence as President of Kurita Water Industries in Tokyo had him transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Japan, where he only remained for 15 months. Once released, Sagawa became a media celebrity. To this day he continues to travel around the world giving interviews where he talks about how human flesh is one of the best delicacies. He’s appeared in pornographic films and has written four novels describing his murder.
The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song “Too Much Blood” as homage to the only cannibal who appears on television gloating about his feats. In one of the many magazine interviews he’s been a part of, Sagawa stated he hopes to be eaten by a western woman in order to create a balance. “I’m not responsible for my image, the media is. The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I’m happy with that.”
Translated by María Suárez