For his new book, Extremely Intimate Fantasies of Beautiful Girls, Sagawa illustrated and wrote about famous women including Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Leni Riefenstahl, and Julie Delpy.
On the afternoon of June 12, 1981, a Japanese man named Issei Sagawa walked into the woods in Bois de Boulogne, France, carrying two suitcases. The postgraduate student at the Sorbonne had shot and killed a female exchange student, a classmate of his, the day before. After eating portions of her body, he tried to dump the corpse in a remote lake. Witnesses saw him and he was soon arrested. According to reports, Issei uttered the following to the French police who raided his home: "I killed her to eat her flesh."
French psychologists found Sagawa to have been legally insane at the time of the crime and, therefore, unfit to stand trial. He was subsequently exempted from prosecution. He returned to his homeland, where Japanese authorities tried to put him on trial for murder. French justice officials refused to hand over the necessary documents to carry on and he was again set free.
Personally, we'd probably eat human flesh if there was a massive apocalyptic famine like the siege of Stalingrad or if we were paid $100 trillion a year for life and were guaranteed to never get in trouble and to not get sick from it either. But short of stuff like that, why the fuck would you eat person meat? What are you, an orc? What exactly drove Sagawa to do it? Vice Japan's editor, Tomo, who would probably make a pretty tasty little dish himself, courageously visited the cannibal's home to find out the whole story.
Vice: Tell me about the first time you felt cannibalistic urges.
Issei Sagawa: I was physically weak from the moment I was born. My legs were so skinny they looked like pencils. It was in the first grade of elementary school when I saw the quivering meat on a male classmate's thighs and I suddenly thought, "Mmm, that looks delicious." But I'm not homosexual, so from around the time I entered junior high school I became obsessed with the Western actress Grace Kelly—an obsession that lasted right through high school. That was the beginning of my infatuation with Occidental people. Before I knew it, tall, healthy-looking Western women became the trigger for my cannibalistic fantasies. I guess my infatuation with such women stemmed from the fact that I was short, ugly, and had an inferiority complex and therefore sought people who were the exact opposite of myself. Eventually, I began feeling a strong desire to bite into them—not to kill them or eat them per se, but merely to gnaw on their flesh. It was purely a form of sexual desire. It wasn't like I felt like eating someone every time I was hungry. But you know how you tend to feel a stronger sexual desire when you've eaten a full meal? That's when I would start feeling the urge to eat a girl. It's absurd, right? In essence, it's different from the type of hunger that people experience for food. This cannibalistic urge, where I'm going, "I want to eat human meat," is a sort of sexual appetite, so if I don't make sure that I ejaculate frequently enough, the desire only gets stronger and stronger.
And this urge of yours got so pent up that it eventually exploded in the form of the… let's say, the "incident" in Paris?
After I went to study in Paris, my cannibalistic urges showed no signs of slowing down. Almost every night I would bring a prostitute home and then try to shoot them from behind while they washed their vaginas at the bidet. I tried hundreds of times, but for some reason my fingers froze up and I couldn't pull the trigger. From around that time, it became less about wanting to eat them, but more an obsession with the idea that I simply had to carry out this "ritual" of killing a girl no matter what. Yet for some reason, I failed so many times to pull the trigger. Rather than morals and whatnot, it was instinct that stopped my hand from moving. Somewhere in my mind I knew that I, and the world that I lived in, would shatter to pieces the moment I pulled that trigger.
Some time after that, I spotted the girl who would later become my victim in one of my classes at university. All of the French women I had met before then were beautiful, but were stuck-up and totally out of my league. In contrast, this girl was so friendly and warm. I found out after the murder that she was Jewish, which is probably why a Japanese guy like me felt an affinity with her. In any case, we became friends. Then one day, we decided to have a sukiyaki [hot pot] party—just the two of us—at my house. The moment I saw her wash her hands in the bathroom, the image overlapped with the prostitutes washing themselves at the bidet in my mind, and inevitably she became another candidate for my "ritual." From that point on, every time I invited her up to my room, I found myself pointing a gun at her from behind. Still, I just couldn't shoot. Then one day, one of the employees from my father's company came to Paris and took me to a Japanese restaurant. I had a bit of a fever that day, which might have made me delusional, because the whole time I was thinking about how she was coming over the next day, and how if I got food poisoning from the raw fish that I ate there, I wouldn't be able to finally realize the fantasy that I'd been obsessing about for 32 years.
And that made you feel even more that you just had to do this…
Yes. So the next day, I finally pulled the trigger on her—and it misfired. This made me even more hysterical and I knew that I simply had to kill her. I invited her to my house again two days later, and as usual I slowly crept up from behind, took a deep breath, held it in when my lungs were half-full, and pulled the trigger. This time, the gun went off. The girl died instantly without feeling any pain. The autopsy showed that the gun wasn't powerful enough to send the bullet through her skull, so it just kept spinning round and round in her head. For a split second I thought about calling an ambulance, but then I thought, "Hang on, don't be stupid. You've been dreaming about this for 32 years and now it's actually happening!"
The first thing I did was cut into her buttock. No matter how deep I cut, all I saw was the fat beneath the skin. It looked like corn, and it took awhile to actually reach the red meat. The moment I saw the meat, I tore a chunk off with my fingers and threw it into my mouth. It was truly a historical moment for me. That said, it wasn't like I was lusting over the fact that I was cutting up her dead body, so it's difficult for me to revisit the incident and talk about it, even now...
This must sound rich coming from me, but the moment the girl became a corpse, I realized that I had lost an important friend and even regretted killing her for a moment. What I truly wished was to eat her living flesh. Nobody believes me, but my ultimate intention was to eat her, not necessarily to kill her. To this day, I still think, "If only she had let me taste her, just a little bit..." If we had spent another evening having dinner and chatting about our families, I never would have been able to kill her. In other words, I can't project my fantasies onto somebody who is already personified in my mind. That's why my first candidates were all prostitutes. I had a lot of other female friends as well, but I would never have dreamed of eating them since I considered them human beings with their own individual personalities. People tell me that I killed her because I loved her, but why would I kill and eat someone who I truly loved?
Did you eat her raw?
Mostly, yes. At first I bit into her butt with the intention of munching right through, but it's impossible! Human skin is so thick. I ended up with a sore jaw, although I managed to leave some teeth marks. I ended up swallowing the clitoris and some pubes without chewing on it because she had her period then and the smell was just horrendous. But it was the first moment that I actually felt a sort of sexual pleasure in eating her, as if my inner body was on fire. Also, you know how beef or whale meat has a sort of beastly smell to it? Human meat is odorless. I actually believe that human meat is the tastiest of all meats. It doesn't have any of that gamey animal smell. When I ate some more a couple of days later, just before I got arrested, the meat had become sweeter and it tasted great. The meat on the soles of her feet smelled bad, though, and didn't taste very nice. The neck was the best. The meat tastes more delicate as you move up the body, especially above the torso. Her tongue was delicious as well. I took it out of her mouth and chewed on it raw. Neither the neck nor the tongue has much meat on it, though, so if you really want to feast, you should eat the thighs.
I'm just going to plod ahead with these questions so I can get the fuck out of here. Would you say that you were trying to free yourself from your personal insecurities by eating human meat?
No, it's not nearly as conceptual as that. It's simply a fetish. Besides, I only wanted to bite into her and have a little taste, rather than actually consuming the meat. Of course, I still have this sexual appetite of wanting to eat a beautiful woman's body. For example, if a normal man fancied a girl, he'd naturally feel a desire to see her as often as possible, to be close to her, to smell her and kiss her, right? To me, eating is just an extension of that. Obviously the general public doesn't understand. But the thing is, sure I want to eat the girl, but I don't necessarily want to kill her in the process. Once she's dead, she's merely a corpse—a "thing." If possible, I'd like to eat her alive. Frankly, I can't fathom why everyone doesn't feel this urge to eat, to consume, other people. Don't you ever feel like this?
I'd say some gentle nibbling is enough for me.
That's what they all say. What's wrong with eating, though? Georges Bataille believed that the kiss is the beginning of cannibalism, and I agree. I feel like it stems from the same instincts of wanting to "taste" the other. Although I guess this is just my personal opinion.
Do you still have these cannibalistic urges?
Oh yes, definitely. The desire to eat people becomes so intense around June, when women start wearing less and showing more skin. Just today, I saw a girl with a really nice derrière on my way to the train station. When I see things like that, I think about wanting to eat someone again before I die. So yes, I do still harbor these desires, and I specifically want to eat a Japanese woman this time. I think either sukiyaki or shabu shabu [lightly boiled thin slices] is the best way to go in order to really savor the natural flavor of the meat. Can you please call for people who would willingly be eaten by me in your magazine? There's one condition, though: They have to be young, beautiful women.
OK, I guess we can do that. Here we go… Hey, all women—especially young, beautiful Japanese ones—who are reading this: Issei Sagawa wants to eat you. If you'd like to be murdered and consumed by him, please contact Vice's Tokyo office and we will put you in touch.
Look, what I'm saying is, I can't bear the thought of leaving this life without ever tasting that derrière that I saw this morning, or her thighs. I want to eat them again while I'm alive, so that I can at least be satisfied when I die. I guess I'm being egotistical, but if I could really go through with it, then after that I'd have no qualms about being put to death via the guillotine or by hanging or whatever. There's no doubt in my mind that I want to eat human flesh again, though. I mean, it's delicious stuff. It's widely believed that human meat doesn't taste good, but they only spread that rumor because it's a taboo that can't be crossed. If people found out the truth, I'm sure that men would all start eating women. So they don't talk about it because it will create pandemonium, but I tell you, human meat is extremely tasty.
Are you interested in anything other than human meat, like excrement, for example?
Eating excrement is going too far, but I did have a female acquaintance who would always let me drink her piss and spit. She doesn't let me anymore since she's married, but before that she would stand above my head and piss directly into my mouth. It was delicious, and it didn't smell funny at all. The strange thing was that once she gave birth, she would leave bottles of her piss at my house for me to drink but I just couldn't, because it reeked of motherhood, of a mother caring for her baby. It's a horrible thing to say, but I guess I began to see her as a "mother" rather than a sexual female being.
Do you have a message for all of the girls around the world reading this?
Sure, I would like to invite any woman who wants to kill me to step forward. Beautiful women only. That would be the ideal way for me to die. Maybe they can shoot me up with morphine so that I don't feel any pain—although I guess the pain is part of the pleasure. Dying instantly is boring, so I want to savor the process of being killed. An alternative would be to drown in female saliva. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be covered all over with women's spit? If I could die drowning in it, that would be my ultimate dream come true. I'm a cowardly man who killed another person, yet I can't face killing myself. So I guess dying at the hands of a woman would be my way to redemption.
What do you think you would be doing now if you hadn't pulled that trigger back in Paris?
At my age, it's not unusual to have kids. My biggest regret is that I couldn't give my parents a grandchild. Why on earth did I pull the trigger that day? That one small action changed everything. It made such a big impact on my life. The moment I killed her, I instinctually thought, "I'm no longer a human being." I believe that it would have been much easier on me had I been given the death penalty. It's so tough living out in the open. That's reason enough for never committing the same crime ever again! You can't imagine how difficult it is to live under surveillance from society. In that respect, I really believe that the death penalty just puts people out of their misery, and it totally defeats the purpose of punishment. The victim's family always say things like, "I'll never forgive so-and-so, even if they're put to death," despite the fact that it's actually meant to be the harshest punishment. It's so meaningless. Even with a life sentence, they give you clothes, food, and shelter in jail, plus they let you work. But if you're out in society, you have to somehow make a living and find a place to stay. What harsher punishment can there be? It's brutal.
How are you making a living right now?
Back in the summer of 1989, a serial killer called Tsutomu Miyazaki murdered some young girls, and the mass media suddenly flocked to my house asking for my opinion on the case. That sort of media exposure eventually led to my essays being published in various magazines. Since then, I've published one or two books per year. I recently published my 20th book. It's entitled Gokushiteki Bijyogenso [Extremely Intimate Fantasies of Beautiful Girls]. It portrays my feelings toward women without necessarily focusing on cannibalism, through pictures and words. I hope that people who read it will at least stop thinking of me as a monster.