I’ve spent time in Yellowknife. I was lucky enough to visit the city in 2010 during a press junket for Ice Pilots NWT. It was winter, and the city was a ruggedly beautiful place full of welcoming citizens happy to host folks from Ontario.
Yellowknife is the focal point of Thursday’s episode of CBC’s documentary series Firsthand, as “The Missing Tourist,” delves into the story of Japanese tourist Atsumi Yoshikubo, who disappeared in 2014. Award-winning producer, writer and director Geoff Morrison presents the facts surrounding the case, and they become more spooky, odd and downright strange as the hour unfolds.
It all begins very straightforward and factual: Yoshikubo, two days after arriving from Japan, entered a visitors’ centre and asked about aurora borealis tours. It being October—the high season for aurora watching is the winter—tours were closed. She then visited an art gallery and bought coffee mugs. It’s one thing to deliver the facts in a dry, journalistic way; it’s another to see security camera footage of Yoshikubo, decked out in a bright pink coat and white boots in the visitors’ centre and art gallery. It adds a personal connection for the viewer. That makes it all the more stark and heartbreaking when it’s revealed that, five days later, Yoshikubo walked out of town and disappeared.
People saw her on Old Airport Road that final day—walking alone and towards the city dump—but thought nothing of it. After all, the 45-year-old had a camera and was dressed for the weather. Search and rescue took on the case, using a helicopter, while citizens from the city of just over 20,000 chipped in to help.
The fascination with true crime and missing person cases has never waned—there is a proliferation of podcasts on both subjects—and “The Missing Tourist” is an addictive watch. You can’t help but wonder, as TV news presenters, crime reporters and witnesses weigh in, what happened to Yoshikubo. Was she kidnapped? Did she slip and fall somewhere in the woods? Was she killed by a bear?
The documentary doesn’t just cover the case in Yellowknife, but jets to her home—a small prefecture in Southern Japan—to do more investigating and spotlight how big the story became there. Why would a Japanese tourist not only travel on her own to Yellowknife (most do it as part of a travel group) but in the off-season. Was she fleeing someone or something by coming to Canada? Was she looking for a new start?
By the end of the hour, the answers are given. And the journey to get there is dramatic and very well done.
Firsthand airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Image courtesy of Catherine Lutes.