Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, filmmakers of the Sensory Ethnography Lab who previously enchanted us with Leviathan, take their cameras into the home of Issei Sagawa, the man who murdered a fellow student at the Sorbonne, Renée Hartevelt, in 1981 and was caught while trying to dispose of her half-eaten body.
The camera barely moves from Sagawa’s face in close up for the first twenty minutes of the film, a disturbing intimacy with a man whose breaking a major human taboo makes him monstrous to us; Sagawa has been free since the mid-80s, declared unfit to stand trial in France before being sent back to Japan where he was declared sane but a sexual pervert (and as the crime was in France, the Japanese had no reason to incarcerate him).
The film gives us samples of the erotic films he has made since then, as well as his publishing career including a very upsetting graphic novel he created detailing his crime. All of this is examined in the company of his brother Jun, who has been taking care of Sagawa since he became ill following partial paralysis a few years before this film was made, and whose conflict gives this film a fascinating emotional core, repulsed by his brother’s actions but no less dedicated to looking after him.
The film will read for some as being too soft on this man who is a murderer and seems a bit too proud of his cannibalistic desires, challenging our notions of understanding as instantly equaling forgiving, but it’s more likely that the filmmakers, in observing without comment, are forcing us to reckon with the existence of this man by putting us directly in his world; given how the film ends and how Sagawa’s situation changes, it’s also a movie that tells us that fate is rarely interested in our idea of justice.
Toronto International Film Festival: 2017