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Notes From a Neo-Geisha: People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman


Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman, Jonathan Cape, 2011

Richard Lloyd Parry’s use of the “I” in his exquisitely executed of history of Lucie Blackman’s short life, hideous death, and its baffling aftermath so impressed me that I’ve decided to talk about myself way too much in this review. Reading People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman, unearthed a cache of buried memories, mostly comic and surreally vivid, I’d kept from my own time in late-nineties/millennial Tokyo. Lucie and I had drunk at all the same off-duty-hostesses-and-the-guys-who-adore-them bars. She’d worked in a club just meters from my own. [The club where I hostessed gets a mention in the book as having employed much prettier girls than did Casablanca, where Lucie worked, and indeed, when we were contemporaries, I was prettier than Lucie. Now, however, that I’m in my thirties and she is still twenty-one, Lucie is much prettier than I.] Several times throughout my reading, I had to set the book down to wipe away my enraged tears at the unfairness of what was done to poor Lucie. Parry is masterful at rendering her humanity in 3-D. Through other people’s reminiscences and her own diary entries, we see a vulnerable, naïve, conflicted, warm-hearted young gaijin, trying, like any of us, to have fun, get high, and make money in Japan, while preserving some spiritual reserves for the real life to follow. The book makes me feel guilty to have two cute children—that’s powerful prose.

Lucie met her murderer at the hostess bar, and was lulled into getting into his car by the dohan system [basically, hostesses earn bonuses by meeting customers outside the club], which was one of my reasons for quitting the “water trade”. I never once went on a dohan and didn’t intend to, so despite being the most-requested girl at my club, I still managed to piss off the manager with my indifference to the System. (At the time, that manager seemed a pure douchebag, but in retrospect, administrating a herd of obnoxious teenage girls who think they’re God’s gift to the Asian continent must be a pretty stressful job.) But why should I? I was Lucie’s age, the always immortal twenty-one, and preferred to spend my dinner hours with half-Japanese male models, or a stunning butoh dancer I knew, who went by the rockstar-ish “Zulu”. But while I lived on a generous taxpayer funded scholarship, Lucie was in debt and needed the cash. Oh, Lucie. The mental picture of the evilly senseless karmic trajectory from shopping a little too much (her debts were modest) to getting into sociopathic sadist Joji Obara’s luxury car is like imagining a bullet leaving the gun’s chamber to enter the heart of a little girl, and again, I put the book down next to me, and looked up into the sky with anguish, as though there were a higher power up there.

Parry lucidly illustrates the absurd incompetence of the Japanese criminal justice system without taking the easy and tiresome Oh-Those-Crazy-Japanese position. He patiently leads his readers through Obara’s interminable, indulgent trial, all the while showing us maddening flashes of its corrosive effect upon Lucie’s survivors. (In case any of you had not followed this case obsessively closely in the newspapers as I had, I’ll not throw in my own commentary on Obara’s verdict and sentencing. Parry’s finely wrought true crime narrative offers delights of suspense and surprise on par with the best fiction, and leaves me almost envious of readers coming to it without any background or context.)

This version of the Lucie Blackman saga is demanding to be adapted for the screen. The gorgeous girls, luxe locations, palm trees, fancy cars, video documentation, dismembered limbs, funeral kimonos, yachts, and karaoke machines are crying out for it. Lucie’s mother believes that her daughter is still with her in the form of birds, stars, and butterflies. I believe she’s with me and every other gaijin hostess, current and ex-, as a martyr and savior, who died in youth, health, and purity so that we could age, get weak, and die.

Oh, and while I still have the screen, a message for the deviant Obara: YOU WERE RIGHT TO ASSUME THAT NO CONSCIOUS WOMAN WOULD WANT YOU. WE NEVER WOULD.

Hillary Raphael holds an MFA in Fiction from Hunter College in New York City where she won the MFA Thesis Prize for her novel, I love Lord Buddha (Creation Books). She is also known for a non-fiction book about the Japanese butoh dance movement, Outcast Samurai Dancer, a collaboration with Japanese culture expert Donald Richie. Her novel Backpacker: New York, Seoul, Phnom Penh, Sapporo, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Mexico City, Maputo, Tokyo, Mon Amour was published in 2007. Ximena followed in 2008 on her own Future Fiction imprint.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, April 19th, 2011.