Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case 2023 Movie Review
There are few things as terrifying as hearing that a loved one is missing, and such news is even more unsettling when said person has vanished in a foreign country whose cities, systems, and customs are wholly unfamiliar. Tim Blackman faced that very situation when, in early July 2000, he received the phone call that changed his life: His eldest daughter Lucie, a 21-year-old former British Airways flight attendant, was nowhere to be found in Tokyo, where she’d been living and working as a hostess at one of the metropolis’s many clubs. It would be far from the last shock he received during the ensuing ordeal, which was complicated by culture-clash obstacles and ultimately came to revolve around a monster of unthinkable depravity.
Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case (July 26 on Netflix) is a standard true-crime retelling of the search for Lucie, who had last been seen at the Casablanca nightspot in the Roppongi district, where she earned a living serving drinks to—and imbibing with—older male customers. Upon learning that Lucie’s whereabouts were unknown, Tim flew to Tokyo to involve himself in the investigation. When he arrived from his native England, however, he discovered that things were done differently in Japan, especially when it came to law enforcement procedures. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department was far from forthcoming when it came to providing Tim with details about leads or developments. As a result, the grief-stricken father turned to the media and, in particular, expat reporter (and Daily Beast correspondent) Jake Adelstein, who had worked in the country for years and therefore knew how to glean information that was unavailable to Tim.
Jake had little to relay at the inquiry’s outset. Police superintendents and inspectors—many of whom are interviewed in Hyoe Yamamoto’s documentary—didn’t immediately view this as an emergency, since foreigners frequently ran away when they feared they might get busted for overstaying their visas or working illegally. As Jake explains, while the Japanese press was loathe to speculate on the record, that wasn’t the case with their British counterparts, and within days the media was suggesting that Lucie might have committed suicide or, more sensationally, fallen prey to an evil cult. Tim didn’t buy that nonsense, but neither did he have an alternate theory about what had taken place. To try to rectify that state of affairs—and to motivate police, who he believed weren’t doing enough to find Lucie—he began his own personal crusade. He held press conferences to maintain his plight’s headline-worthy profile, and he plastered flyers around Tokyo. For his labors, he was thought of as a “flamboyant showman” by locals not used to such an aggressive approach.
Regardless of the fact that, for more than half a year, Lucie’s fate was undetermined, Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case plays from the start like a non-fiction whodunit; it’s almost stunning to hear Tim admit at its conclusion that, even considering the circumstances at hand, he was hopeful to the bitter end. Numerous police officers discuss their desire to locate Lucie, and their fortunes improved when Sergeant Junichiro Kuku was assigned to look into the matter. Described by his superior as “tenacious and persistent,” Kuku began by reviewing every criminal report from the Roppongi district, whose patrons were often wealthy men. What he unearthed were numerous complaints about hostesses being drugged—and possibly assaulted—by a client. Many of these accusations sounded similar, and they all indicated that the nefarious individual in question drove Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, and other luxury cars.
Guided by commentary from author Suzy K. Quinn and journalist Clare Campbell, Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case shines a brief spotlight on the world of hostessing—a profession that’s apparently defined by sexual power dynamics (with men on top) but not necessarily sex itself. Unfortunately, Yamamoto’s doc doesn’t delve very deep into this subject, and that superficiality also extends to its overarching narrative. Tim’s significant business problems, divorce, and controversial decisions to take money from people related to the fiend responsible for Lucie’s disappearance have all been written about during the past few years, but they go completely unmentioned here. The film, therefore, feels like it has tunnel vision, ignoring elements that might complicate its narrowly straightforward perspective.
Thanks to one hostess’s notebook entry about her assailant, and another’s memory about being driven to a palm tree-lined area that could only be Zushi Marina, cops soon set their sights on a promising suspect: a wealthy property management firm playboy named Joji Obara, who had inherited a fortune from his family and who owned multiple homes around the country—as well as numerous high-priced cars. Since Obara already had a record for secretly filming women in a restroom (while dressed in women’s clothing), they were able to acquire a mugshot and get hostesses to identify him as their attacker. Even given how promising he appeared on paper, however, no one was prepared for what was in his beachfront residence: knockout drugs, journals (in which he said he was going to “devote himself to evil”), and 400 videotapes of him having sex with comatose women, their faces covered by chloroform-drenched towels and their legs held up by cords connected to a metal ceiling hook.
It took considerable time to get a few of Obara’s myriad victims to testify about their mistreatment, and even longer until investigators were able to pin Lucie’s disappearance on him—something only achieved when a search of the caves near his Zushi Marina home turned up her body. Subsequent trials held Obara responsible for at least some of his ghastly deeds, landing him in prison for life. In that regard, Tim’s persistence resonates as borderline heroic. Without greater context, though, Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case comes across as slight, and that notion is reinforced by a finale that draws no meaningful lessons from its tragic saga—save for the not-very-illuminating truths that there are serial predators in our midst, that they won’t stop unless they’re caught, and that halting their reigns of terror requires bravery on the parts of victims, sleuths, and loved ones alike.