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In Caniba, film-makers explore the mind of a cannibal and it's not pretty

In June 13, 1981, Issei Sagawa, 32, was arrested after he was seen dumping two suspicious suitcases in the Seine. A student of comparative literature at Sorbonne, the Japanese man two days earlier had killed his Dutch classmate, raped her corpse, stored her body in his fridge and ate morsels after morsels of her flesh to stimulate his sexual desire. Only when the smell became unbearable did he pack what remained in the suitcases and threw them into the river. The French court declared Sagawa legally insane and released him. He returned to Japan, wrote a comic book about his world-famous case, became a food critic (no kidding), and starred in pornographic films. Today Sagawa, old and paralytic, still lives in a suburb of Tokyo.

Scenes from Caniba. photos courtesy of TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

In Caniba, showing this week at Toronto International Film Festival, the documentary filmmakers Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor captures Sagawa on the camera, almost in extreme close-up throughout 90 minutes, a work of powerful, disturbing intensity that blurs the line between film and video art, between confession and reminiscence, and between representation and porn.

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