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Home arrow CINEMA arrow [VENEZIA74] Caniba. The new doc by Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor (interview)
[VENEZIA74] Caniba. The new doc by Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor (interview)
di di Andrea Falco e Chiara Sciascia   

35628-caniba_-_directors_lucien_casting_taylor___verena_paravel_2.jpgDirectors, anthropologists, and artists, all members of the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory at Harvard, Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor manipulate sound and images with experimental techniques to realize some of the most audacious, fascinating documentaries of the last decade, including award-winning Leviathan (2012), Somniloquies, and Sweetgrass.


Among the many news stories in recent history, the one Caniba is centred on is maybe one of the most morbid and visited by media outlets all over the world. Why did you choose this story?
LCT Because even though this story has been hyper-mediatized, it happened a long time ago in 1981 and ever since there has been no serious investigations or representations of what happened. Mostly, it’s been a highly spectacularized, overexcited media sensation. He was presented as this oriental cannibal in a highly racist kind of way, a way the press uses to titillate their audience, and never once his condition has been the object of a proper inquiry. I agree it all is very morbid, though morbidity is a part of human condition. Fiction cinema is deeply attracted to morbidity, too. In documentaries, I think it’s important to give a different kind of representation of this darker side of humanity, more extensive and generalized, beyond the case of this individual.

There are affinities we explore in the film: sexuality, religiosity, spirituality.

The media got excited for a while, but there has been nothing after that
LCT It was completely sensationalist – there has never been any interest in this man at all. He was presented as this kind of grotesque, wily, prematurely-born, oriental Japanese man eating a white woman. The case appealed to colonial and post-colonial phantasms of an oriental man taking advantage of our white female flesh.


The experience with Issei Sagawa…

VP It was a very disturbing experience. Mr. Sagawa is an aging, very vulnerable man. He frequently zones out – he is very articulate at times, taciturn at others. He’s literate, too, he likes Shakespeare and listening to classical music and it’s really hard, even after spending day after day with him, to get a sense of what is going on in his head. The film is also about his caretaker brother, whom he lives with. They have a very interesting relationship with a dark Shakespearean twist to it.

How much of it was obvious and how much did you have to infer?
VP It became clearer and clearer by the day. The reason why it was so interesting for us was how for the first time we filmed someone speaking a language, Japanese, that we know nothing of. We took notice of every non-linguistic expression, a very different way of working for us. Slowly, something happens at some point in the film where all the relationships shift to another level. I think they used us to reveal secrets and talk to each other. A very fascinating dynamic that happened a few times while we were together.

Do you think us as viewers will have a similar experience? How does the story takes us into his mind?

LCT This is our first film with words, we usually make non-verbal or almost non-verbal films. However, the main subject, Mr. Sagawa, is laconic to the point of barely speaking. As a result, as with all of our earlier work, the film is attuned to the expression of emotion, character, and subjectivity through facial expressions and gestures, more so than words, which we couldn’t understand as they were spoken. I think words are cinematically empty – they are theatrical, discursive, academical, critical… but we get beyond discourse, closer to the motives that are behind the behaviour of a man who is in the twilight of his life, approaching death, who has committed a horrible, evil act that we all fetishize. Dramatically, we structured the film in four parts where each is imprévue, unexpected. They do lead to one another but not in a commonly logical way.


We’ve heard this film is not for the faint of heart…
LCT On the contrary, it is a film that interrogates all of us, our very humanity. It is especially for the faint of heart. It’s not this sensationalist, spectacularist representation of him at all. There is no safe space in this film. No trigger warnings, either. It interrogates us all, our very fabric.


Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Caliban. But I won’t say much about Shakespeare, Mr. Sagawa was a specialist of Shakespeare.

The House of the Sleeping Beauties by Yasunari Kawabata, an amazing Japanese writer. Issei Sagawa wrote his masters’ thesis on him. 



A movie adaptation of the On June 11, 1981, the spoiled scion of a rich Japanese family, Issei Sagawa, who is in Paris to study literature, kills young Dutchwoman Renée Hartevelt and dismembers her body. When police find him, Issei has already eaten 7 kilos of it, fulfilling a lifelong cannibal dream of his. First incarcerated, then locked up in a psychiatric hospital, thanks to his father’s influence he is extradited to Japan and is soon set free, on to becoming a macabre media celebrity. This documentary shows a disturbing, accurate portrait of Sagawa and reflects on the perturbing cannibalistic desire in the history of mankind./ L’11 giugno del 1981, Issei Sagawa, viziato rampollo di ricca famiglia giapponese, a Parigi per studiare letteratura, uccide la giovane olandese Renée Hartevelt e ne fa a pezzi il corpo. Quando la polizia lo trova, Issei ne ha già divorati 7 chili realizzando l’atroce sogno cannibale di una vita. Dapprima incarcerato e poi rinchiuso in un ospedale psichiatrico, grazie all’influenza del padre viene estradato in Giappone e torna presto in libertà, diventando una macabra celebrità mediatica. Il documentario restituisce un disturbante quanto accurato ritratto di Sagawa, che riflette sul significato sconvolgente del desiderio cannibalistico nella storia dell’umanità.