(directors: Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor; cinematographer: Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor; editors: Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor; cast: Issei Sagawa, Jun Sagawa; Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR producers: Valentina Novati, Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor; Grasshopper Film; 2017-France-in Japanese, French, English, with English subtitles when necessary)
“A weirdo documentary based on a true story of modern-day cannibalism.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A weirdo documentary based on a true story of modern-day cannibalism. The strange and unpleasant film has an audience for this kind of a shocker, but will also turn off viewers who question it as a film more fit for mental health researchers than entertainment.
It’s co-directed by anthropologists Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (“Somniloquies”), who make it a difficult film to watch because of the repulsive subject matter and their unfocused visuals. Nevertheless it’s a compelling offbeat film about a perverted killer who goes unpunished for his horrible deed of killing and eating his vic.
The academic filmmakers, associated with the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Laboratory, tell us about the infamous Issei Sagawa, the Japanese cannibal, now sixtyish and in poor health, who in 1981, when a 32-year old Japanese art student at the Sorbonne in Paris, murdered and partially ate his 25-year-old classmate, he was fond of, Renée Hartevelt. He was arrested but declared unfit for trial, and was sent back to Japan unpunished. In Japan he could only earn his money by telling his story repeatedly to the media, starring in a pornographic film, writing a graphic comic book about his foul-deed and appearing in social network outlets.
This is the fourth documentary on him. The inquisitive filmmakers question the ailing Issei, living in a modest home in the suburbs outside of Tokyo. They seem not to condone his act but nevertheless forgive him (I wonder how the victim’s family feels about their generosity at their daughter’s expense).
Their search for what motives such a crazed individual, who still desires human flesh but has not acted upon it as far as it’s known since his release from France, makes for both an uneasy and fascinating watch. For most of the interview Issei is either mumbling to himself, in Japanese or French, or to his close-knit brother, Jun, standing off in the background. Jun is someone we will learn has his own fetish issues. Issei explains away his desire to kill and eat his victim’s flesh, who rejected his advances, as something he believes as “my fantasy.” The arthouse experimental film, I dare say, was tastefully done, as it raises morally complex questions without easy answers and should make us wonder how the sicko killer can get no punishment even if obviously unbalanced. Unfortunately, it offered no particularly good insights into the subject’s mental fitness and no good answers for the judicial system’s weak actions.
The uncompromising film ends with a karaoke version of The Stranglers’ 1981 song La Folie, which was inspired by Issei. His cannibalism is certainly over-the-top, though there probably is a small segment of the population that can relate to zombie pics as well as to his real-life cannibal tale.
REVIEWED ON 9/28/2018 GRADE: C+