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People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman

19 Comments
By James Hadfield

For years after her disappearance in the summer of 2000, Lucie Blackman still haunted the streets of Roppongi. The 21-year-old had arrived in Tokyo on a tourist visa, accompanied by a close friend, both of them hoping to pay off the debts they’d accumulated in England by working at a hostess club. On July 1, 2000, Lucie accompanied a customer on a "dohan" — a compensated date — and was never heard from again.

The police were initially slow to pursue the matter, but pressure from the Blackman family — notably media-savvy father Tim — boosted the profile of the case, to the point that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was pressuring his Japanese counterpart for a resolution. The police arrested their chief suspect in October, but it would take them until February 2001 to finally find Lucie, her body dismembered and head encased in concrete, buried in a cave on the Miura Coast.

If the nature of her demise was disturbing, so too was the man accused of killing her. Joji Obara was the son of a wealthy "zainichi" family from Osaka who for decades had apparently been preying on both foreign and Japanese women, luring them to an apartment before drugging and raping them. These encounters were photographed and videoed for posterity, and he kept a detailed written log of his self-described “conquest play.”

Obara would eventually be brought to trial on multiple charges: not only for Lucie’s abduction and death, but also a number of other rapes, including one resulting in the death of an Australian hostess, Carita Ridgway, back in 1992. He refused to confess to these crimes and showed no apparent remorse, even concocting an elaborate claim that Lucie had died in the throes of a prolonged drug binge.

Yet the court’s verdict in April 2007 still took most people by surprise: guilty on all counts, except those relating to Lucie Blackman. More surprising still was a High Court ruling that came 18 months later, which upheld the previous convictions while also overturning the acquittals on most other charges, including the abduction, attempted rape and dismemberment of Lucie’s body—just not her actual killing.

These are the grim facts at the heart of Richard Lloyd Parry’s "People Who Eat Darkness," a compelling and level-headed account that tries to understand a case so awful that it seems almost impossible to fathom. Lloyd Parry, a veteran journalist and the Asia editor for the London Times, avoids jumping to obvious conclusions: he rejects the claim that Obara was a psychopath, and is even more dismissive of the notion that his crimes were an extreme manifestation of a deeper malaise in Japanese society.

The book is based on extensive interviews conducted not only with Lucie’s family and close friends, but also key figures involved with the case, including some of the senior investigators. While the police were widely criticized, Lloyd Parry presents a more nuanced picture, praising the dedication of individual figures and directing blame instead at the institutional failings of a system that is “sclerotic, unimaginative, prejudiced and procedure-bound, a liability to a modern nation.”

Despite the author’s attempts, Obara himself remains a mystery: a man who has gone through life without ever making any friends, and erased his past so effectively that the media were forced to rely on three-decade-old photos of him when reporting the trial. Yet perhaps the most surprising moment in the book comes when Tim Blackman admits to feeling sympathy for the man accused of killing his daughter, a “degree of… pathos that tends to neutralize what might be more natural anger.”

It’s in mapping these gray areas that "People Who Eat Darkness" really transcends the confines of the “true crime” genre, and emerges as a work of far greater significance.

This review originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.


19 Comments
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Everywhere we can see darkness and brightness. We hope her family's members and other involved people are blessed.

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While the police were widely criticized, Lloyd Parry presents a more nuanced picture.

"Nuanced"? That girls before were murdered and raped before Lucie and the reports to Japanese authorities were ignored doesn't seem so "nuanced" to me. Clearly, these "nuanced" investigators didnt act until Tim Blackman came to Japan, held a news conference and angrily lashed out at the police, embarrassing them on an international stage.

They then found Blackman's body in a cave in right outside Obara's seaside condo -- the most OBVIOUS place they should have checked in the first place. Nothing "nuanced" about any of this travesty.

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Nothing "nuanced" about any of this travesty.

So you've read this, or are criticizing without having read it?

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he rejects the claim that Obara was a psychopath,

Obara aggressively sued media, including Parry, for less inflammatory statements. It think it's less of rejecting such claims than avoiding more litigation. Since no psychiatric profile of Obara was introduced at his trial, making such a claim would risk more litigation. This review was well done. The book was good too, although its chronology meanders a bit.

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Smorkian. It is pretty clear that the previous posts are addressing the use of the word nuanced and are not talking about the content of the book on whole. How about a little charity to the posters? They have a point, the word "nuanced" should not be applied to any aspect of Japanese law enforcement or legal Process. "Pedantic", "Ineffective", "Lazy", "Uninspired", "Bottle Necked" etc... would be better terms.

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Smorkian, read my post. I'm criticizing the notion that the cops in this case should be excused for their negligent actions in this case.

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The foreign women hostesses are gambling with their lives. They should know gentlemen, freaks & weirdos go to these establishments. Let the Hostess be warned !!!!

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Okay, we all better take a look at this book. I definitely want to read it.

Lloyd Parry presents a more nuanced picture, praising the dedication of individual figures and directing blame instead at the institutional failings of a system that is “sclerotic, unimaginative, prejudiced and procedure-bound, a liability to a modern nation.” I believe the above statement to be true. If you are not Japanese you will not receive a fair trial from Japan's JUST-us system.

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JeffLee, it's not clear that's what this book is doing. There's always some grey area - not an excuse, but an explanation. I'd like to read this before I judge, that's all.

@WordStar

The book was good too, although its chronology meanders a bit.

How have you read this? On Amazon, it's not released until 22 March.

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I would never do a job like that. That was so terrible.

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Labels are as risky to apply as to not. So:

(Parry) rejects the claim that Obara was a psychopath

but:

(Obara) kept a detailed written log of his self-described “conquest play”

and:

he refused to confess to these crimes and showed no apparent remorse....

Google "psychopathy" and you'll find a virtual picture of Obara. Really, normal people (like me and, I assume, you) cannot even conceive of contemplating the crimes of this man, much less executing them - or living with that knowledge thereafter. Or keeping their details in a notebook. Or doing this repeatedly.

I say this with no sympathy for the man. I say this in the interest of science because if this man is not a psychopath - if he is, indeed, just like normal men - God help us all. But he is not, and someday science will be able to peer beyond the bone and flesh of the head to find out what makes these types tick; money and effort should be expended to do so, but to suggest he is not a psychopath - that these things may just "happen" - is to suggest that such research is unrequired.

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How have you read this?

@Smorkian -- I never reveal my sources, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

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@Smorkian-how about giving us YOUR opinion of this article and get out of the other posters grills.? I looked this guy up and also disagree with the articles claim that the author does not consider him a psychopath. It is appalling he only got life imprisonment. I would like to read the book but I feel the nature of the crimes will leave me too enraged.

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The proper term might be sociopath.

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@Smorkian-how about giving us YOUR opinion of this article and get out of the other posters grills.?

The article's fine - what can I say about a review for something I haven't read? I do plan on getting the book when it's released in a few weeks.

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The book is already available as a Kindle download from Amazon. I'm about halfway through at the moment and even though I've read a lot about the case over the years, it's still an interesting, compelling read.

I'm a fan of Richard LP's writing anyway (sadly his articles are now hidden behind Murdoch's paywall), but I think he's done a good job of weaving together all the diverse threads into a coherent whole.

I suspect that many of us who have been young, female and fearless in Japan at the time will have taken an interest in the case - one doesn't have to have been a hostess to think "There but for the grace of God..."

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What was the sentence handed down to this guy? Anyone know?

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What was the sentence handed down to this guy? Anyone know?

Life sentence,which in Japan is a minimum of 30 years. He was 48 when he was first arrested in Oct. 2000, so any way you work the figures, he'll be an old, old man if he ever gets out. His attorneys have been fighting a delaying action, trying to introduce new evidence, but he's just about run out of cards to play.

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I'll get the book if it's on sale in the UK. 3 for a price of 2.

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