A film by Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor
2017, 97 minutes
No. 169

A new documentary from the groundbreaking filmmakers behind Leviathan, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Caniba reflects on the discomfiting significance of cannibalistic desire in human existence through the prism of one Japanese man, Issei Sagawa, and his mysterious relationship with his brother, Jun Sagawa.

As a 32-year-old student at the Sorbonne in Paris, Issei Sagawa was arrested on June 13, 1981 when spotted emptying two bloody suitcases containing the remains of his Dutch classmate, Renée Hartevelt. Two days earlier, Mr. Sagawa had killed Hartevelt and began eating her. Declared legally insane, he returned to Japan. He has been a free man ever since.

Ostracized from society, he has made his living off his crime by writing novels, drawing manga, appearing in innumerable documentaries and sexploitation films in which he reenacts his crime, and even becoming a food critic.

Filmmakers Statement
Rather than taking cover behind facile outrage, or creating a masquerade out of humanity’s voyeuristic attraction to the grotesque, as has been the case for the multitude of journalistic representations of Issei Sagawa (Japanese and international alike), we try to treat cannibalistic desire and acts with the unnerving gravity they deserve. Cannibalism is a litmus test of cultural relativism, a longstanding subject of anthropological inquiry, and a central trope of colonial discourse and post-colonial critical theory from Melville and Montaigne, to Oswald de Andrade. In Caniba cannibalism emerges as closer to the human condition than most of us ever suppose, both because it is replete with affinities to sexuality and spirituality — the desire to become One with the Other, the theological doctrine of transubstantiation and longing for Atonement, practices such as menophilia and vampyrism — and because in our evolutionary history it implicates humanity as a whole. Formerly prevalent not just in Polynesia, but across the Americas, Australasia, Asia, and Europe, cannibalism is part and parcel of the prehistory, and arguably also the repressed preternatural longings, of us all.

Official Selection, Venice International Film Festival
Official Selection, New York Film Festival
Official Selection, Toronto International Film Festival

“Undeniably fascinating. The film asks probing questions about the identity of the post-war Japanese male, the depths of the empathetic imagination, and whether societal boundaries are needed to get a grip on humanity.” –

“Frighteningly cinematic… Sets up a fascinating dialectic between the depiction of violence and its verbal counterpart.” – Sight and Sound

“Castaing-Taylor -Taylor and Paravel achieve their unnerving effect through the most elemental of techniques, all-encompassing close-ups and temps mort (as it were) that make us feel their subject’s presence and absence.” – Film Comment

“You’d have a difficult time finding another film that contains this much fascinating and terrible humanity.” – Cinema Scope