The Lucie Blackman Case: The disturbing true story behind Netflix documentary
Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case is a new documentary from Netflix, detailing the disappearance of a British woman in Japan and an investigation that uncovered one of the most disturbing criminal cases in Japanese history – we’ve broken down the true story and the sinister details surrounding the case.
Netflix has been steadily dropping new true crime documentary films and series this year, from Take Care of Maya and Victim/Suspect to The Playing Card Killer and Missing: Dead or Alive. Each entry elaborates on a crime through extensive testimonies and fresh insights.
Every now and then, a case is brought to light that shakes viewers to their very core, and Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case is one of them, uncovering a perpetrator whose wicked crimes left an indelible mark on those involved.
With the documentary now available for streaming on Netflix, we’ve broken down the details of Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case, including what happened to Lucie, the relevance of hostessing culture, the perpetrator and his video tapes, and where Lucie’s father Tim Blackman is now. Warning: Some may find this content distressing.
What is Missing The Lucie Blackman Case about?
The synopsis for Missing: The Lucie Black Case on Netflix reads: “When 21-year old British Air hostess Lucie Blackman leaves her life in London to move to Tokyo for an adventurous year of exploration, her parents and friends never imagine that just three weeks later, she will vanish without a trace. What follows is an intricate international investigation to find Lucie – led by a team of tenacious Japanese detectives.”
You can watch the trailer below:
The description adds: “This gripping true crime feature is told both through the fascinating inside track of the investigation, as well as the emotional lens of Lucie’s father who never gives up on finding his daughter alive.
“Their journey against the clock takes them through the seedy heart of Tokyo’s dark underbelly and ultimately to the tragic truth about her brutal murder at the hands of one of the country’s most reprehensible sexual predators.”
What happened to Lucie Blackman?
Lucie Blackman was a 21-year-old British woman who went missing while living in Tokyo, Japan. On July 1, 2000, she was reported missing after friends noticed she wasn’t answering the door or her phone.
Initially, detectives believed she may have run away after overstaying her visa, while the media threw out outrageous theories suggesting she may have been abducted by a cult. After 11 days and no closer to locating Lucie, her father Tim Blackmen flew out to Tokyo to seek answers himself.
Tim undertook a relentless quest to find her, starting a high-profile media campaign to raise awareness about her disappearance. This included press conferences and interviews, as well as offering a substantial reward for information leading to Lucie.
His approach was considered unusual in Japan and sometimes clashed with the methods of the local authorities. In Japan, investigations tend to be conducted quietly and discreetly, without the same level of media involvement often seen in western countries. Police and some critics believed the high-profile campaign could hamper the investigation by causing potential witnesses to be less forthcoming or encouraging false leads.
Despite the criticism, Tim continued his efforts, believing that maintaining public interest in the case would increase the chances of finding Lucie. During the seven-month search, Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister at the time, even met the Blackmans in Japan and promised to raise the issue at the G8 summit.
While there were differences of opinion between Tim and the authorities, the police continued their mission to find out what really happened to Lucie, a common goal both parties shared. A breakthrough arrived in early 2001, when detectives found remains later identified as Lucie’s buried in a cave near the seaside home of the Korean-Japanese businessman, Joji Obara.
It later transpired that Obara had drugged, raped, and murdered Lucie – but, tragically, this was the tip of the iceburg.
What is a hostess and why was it important to the case?
A key piece of information that assisted in the police investigation was that Lucie had been working as a hostess – a popular job for women in Japan, as it provides a steady income. But due to the nature of the profession, it also puts young women in vulnerable positions.
As is explored in the Netflix documentary, hostessing is unique to Japanese culture. It typically refers to a type of work in bars and clubs where employees – usually young women – entertain clients by engaging in conversation, singing karaoke, and generally providing companionship in a social setting. These establishments, often known as ‘hostess clubs’, are common in urban areas throughout Japan.
The primary role of a hostess is to make the club’s customers feel welcome and valued. Hostesses are often expected to pour drinks, light cigarettes, and maintain engaging conversation to ensure clients have an enjoyable experience. The clients are usually middle-aged men who visit the clubs for business entertainment or personal leisure.
While the job is not sex work, and hostesses are not expected to engage in sexual activities with clients, there is the opportunity to make more money by going on a dohan: a paid personal date. Some critics argue that the industry can sometimes blur the lines of consent and could potentially put women at risk, particularly when alcohol is involved, and the case of Lucie Blackman only brought further scrutiny to the profession.
In the context of the Lucie Blackman case, it’s important to point out that in Japan, major investigations are often divided into different squads. Captain Satoru Yamashiro explains in the documentary that he felt the main team was moving too slowly. As such, he led a team of detectives – known for their persistence as the “snapping turtle squad” – into searching for relevant information from reports previously filed by their counterparts.
One of his team members, Sergeant Junichiro Kuku, uncovered an incident in which a police officer had spoken with a club owner, who said one of the hostesses was taken to a client’s seaside apartment, where he drugged and possibly sexually assaulted her.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Kuku explained: “I got a shiver when I read that report. And it had been disregarded because the informant was a low-life and a drug addict. But that had nothing to do with the veracity of the information he had to give. And so we followed up.”
The outlet went on to say that at this point, police “knew something similar had happened to Lucie; she met a customer who was supposed to drive her to the seaside – and then she vanished.”
The team discovered numerous instances of a similar nature dating back years, and they continued their investigation with perseverance. Eventually, two female officers were able to find survivors willing to speak, and slowly the pieces of the puzzle began to come together.
One of the women they spoke to had written down the phone number of the suspect, only it was in a notebook in Australia. After having it shipped to Japan, they discovered the digits were crossed out – but when they held the paper up to the light, they were able to figure it out. And they found the same phone had been used to call Lucie.
As more and more evidence was brought forward, they narrowed it down to a man named Joji Obara.
Who was Joji Obara and what did he do?
Joji Obara, born Kim Sung-jong in 1952, was a Japanese businessman of Korean descent. Thanks to the tireless work of the detectives and Lucie’s father Tim, he was eventually caught and charged for a series of sexual assaults and the murders of Lucie Blackman and Australian woman Carita Ridgway.
Despite his heinous crimes, he maintained a façade of wealth and respectability, owning several properties and businesses. Although some cops questioned Tim Blackman’s high-profile media campaign, the global attention it received placed pressure on the authorities, who in turn worked tirelessly to crack the case.
Obara’s criminal activities largely involved drugging, raping, and sometimes filming his victims. He would lure women, often from hostess clubs in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, under the guise of friendly or business interactions. He would then drug their drinks and assault them while they were unconscious.
In a tragic turn of events, Obara killed Lucie, dismembered her body, and buried her in a seaside cave near his property in the prestigious Zushi Marina. He was also found to be responsible for the 1992 killing of Carita Ridgway, who had been working as a hostess in Japan. After being offered a lift by Obara, she was drugged, leading to chloroform-related liver failure and brain death.
Obara was arrested in connection with Blackman’s disappearance in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2007 that he was found guilty of raping nine women, as well as the manslaughter of Ridgway. He was sentenced to life in prison. The trial drew controversy, however, as Obara was initially acquitted of Lucie’s murder due to lack of evidence directly linking him to her death, a severe blow to the Blackman family.
But in 2008, they found some semblance of justice after the Tokyo High Court ruled that Obara was guilty of dismembering Lucie and abandoning her body. While he was charged for crimes against less than 10 women, police uncovered a trove of grisly evidence implicating him in the sexual assault of hundreds of victims.
What were the video tapes found in the Lucie Blackman case?
As is highlighted in the Netflix documentary, one of the most disturbing discoveries made in the Lucie Blackman case unfolded at Obara’s property: police found at least 400 video tapes on which he recorded himself sexually assaulting drugged women.
Sergeant Mitsuko Yamaguchi of the Tokyo Met Police explains that there were so many tapes, they had to take in some young officers from the riot police to help. “The victims in the videos would change, but the footage showed the same horrible crimes over and over again,” she says. “A few of those officers couldn’t handle the trauma of seeing the videos. Several had to rescue themselves because they were having mental breakdowns.”
The tapes were deeply disturbing, and they provided the authorities with a clear insight into Obara’s modus operandi. While they did not conclusively prove his involvement in Lucie’s death, they were critical in leading to his conviction for other offenses. The shocking nature of these recordings also raised broader awareness about the potential dangers faced by hostesses in Japan’s nightlife industry.
Where is Tim Blackman now?
Tim Blackman, Lucie’s determined father who refused to give up fighting to find his daughter, appears in the Netflix documentary where he details the case and his involvement. In 2004, he launched the Lucie Blackman Trust, an organization that promotes safety among young people abroad while supporting families who have been in the same position as Lucie’s.
His LinkedIn page explains: “My objective is to be creative in assisting the team at The Lucie Blackman Trust to build for the future a lasting memory to Lucie’s short life through the vital help we can give other families who will remember Lucie through the unique assistance that we can provide at their worst times.
“We are now 10 years in and The Trust is considered an essential service by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. You just cannot believe how complicated it is if your child is lost or killed abroad… The Lucie Blackman Trust has become the main UK agency in helping families – and we have many we are working with.”
In 2018, Tim, who lives on the Isle of Wight with his second wife Josephine, told the Mirror that he finds comfort and motivation in knowing the charity helps over 600 families a year who have a missing relative abroad.
But, most significantly, he’s determined to keep Lucie’s memory alive. Speaking about his daughter in the Netflix film, Tim says: “She was very special in the family, she was very quick-witted, she influenced many people around her.
He later adds: “In some strange way, Lucie has given us an experience of life, however ghastly and beastly it’s been. It’s something that a legacy which Lucie has left for me in my heart and in my soul.”
Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case is available to stream on Netflix now. For more of our true crime and documentary coverage, hit the links below:
Where is Natalia Grace now? | Who are the Duggars? | Victim/Suspect explained | Missing Dead or Alive explained | True story behind The Playing Card Killer | True story behind Take Care of Maya | HBO’s Burden of Proof explained | How to watch David Fuller: Monster in the Morgue | How to watch the Hart family murders documentary | True story of The Deepest Breath | True story of Last Call