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Forgiveness & your morality: a quick test

The notion of what is forgiveable and what is unforgiveable seems not to be too fraught with difficulty, does it? It just a question of degrees, of how forgiving a person you are.

But in Japanese-TV-Land, like so many other things, it all gets thrown on its head. Because as we’ve seen before, the world that we inhabit and the world of Japanese TV seldom even overlap.

Remember a while ago, actress Akiko Yada committed the heinous crime of choosing the wrong date (‘bad boy’ actor Manabu Oshio)? Entirely innocuous, you’d think. But no. End of career. ‘Sullied her image’, they said, and all her commercial contracts got cancelled. When did I last see her on TV? Not since then.

On the other hand, around the same time, host Shinsuke Shimada publicly beat up a female member of his agency. He made the requisite on-screen tearful apology of course (though he added that the woman was rude and her attitude needed to be “corrected”). And for this he was given a spot of ‘garden leave’, after which he returned to the small screen, most likely still the sort of person who thinks such conduct acceptable. And apparently it is, judging by the fact he’s been allowed to continue pretty much from where he left off. No ‘sullied image’ there, it seems.

But possibly the single greatest aberration in the field of human forgiveness goes back to the mid-80s when a small, slightly- built and otherwise unobtrusive and unremarkable man was thrust into the limelight by Japanese television and made a media darling.

Unremarkable, that is, apart from the fact that he’d just been released from a mental institution after escaping prosecution in France for murdering and cannibalising a woman in Paris.

In 1981, Issei Sagawa had been studying at the Sorbonne in Paris when he developed a fixation on a Dutch classmate, Renée Hartevelt. That summer he murdered her and… the rest is history.

On being arrested in France, he was deemed mentally unfit. So instead of standing trial he was committed to a mental hospital where it was decided he was incurably insane. In 1984 though, thanks to the intervention of his rich daddy, he was transferred to a secure unit in Japan. Doctors in Japan however declared him sane and in August 1985 he walked out of the hospital to his freedom.

And now it gets really weird. Instead of retiring into a quiet, dark corner, he accepted invitations to appear on chat shows, and rather than shying away from his shocking misdeeds, he spoke at length about them to anyone who would listen. And they listened. And they kept inviting him back. He went on to appear on the cover of a gourmet magazine (!), wrote four novels including In the fog, “an autobiographical account detailing the obsession, murder, and consumption of Renée Hartevelt”. He has written a weekly column for a tabloid and has edited an anthology of cannibal fantasies.

He takes a degree of pride in his crimes, it seems. “The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism,” he once said, “and I am quite happy about that.”

In other words, the Japanese arts world embraced him. And the public, it seems, rather than be repulsed by his crimes, were morbidly attracted by his candid openness. He still lives in Tokyo, and has never been punished for the crimes that he openly exploits for fame and if not actually fortune, then at least a career.

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