Filmmaking-anthropologist duo Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Leviathan) return to Wavelengths with this complex and deeply disturbing interview-portrait of Issei Sagawa, the notorious Japanese cannibal now living a reclusive life as a paralytic and seeking atonement for his gruesome crimes.
The latest documentary from filmmaking anthropologist duo Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (last at the Festival in 2012 with Leviathan) is certain to be one of the year's most discussed and debated films. A complex and deeply disturbing interview-portrait of Issei Sagawa — who was deported from Paris in 1981 after being held in prison for two years for murdering and cannibalizing Dutch student Renée Hartevelt — Caniba heads boldly into unforeseen territory, morphing into a Shakespearean tale of the jealousy and rivalry between Sagawa and his brother, who has become the cannibal's caretaker since Sagawa suffered a stroke a few years ago. Semi-paralyzed, housebound on the outskirts of Tokyo, and seeking atonement, Sagawa is forthcoming about his crime, his own wish to be consumed, and the fame he acquired through infamy: after his return to Japan, he sought to make a living off of his notoriety by publishing gruesome mangas, becoming a sushi critic, and dabbling in porn films.
Cannibalism is a long-standing subject of anthropological inquiry, and in Caniba it is revealed as something far more intrinsic to the human condition than most us of would suppose, replete with affinities to both sexual and spiritual urges (the desire to merge into One, for example). Shot in fleshy close-ups, this unnerving work of sensory ethnography is definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart: it contains graphic violence and explicit sex, and its paradoxical evocations of horror, dignity, sexual freedom and fetish, monstrosity, vulnerability, (im)morality, madness, evil, and moral reckoning are not easily resolved, onscreen or off.