Based on the titular novel by Susanna Jones, Earthquake Bird was released in November 2019. A psychological thriller with film noir features reminding this viewer of Alfred Hitchcock, Earthquake Bird is all about guilt and the insidious nature and burden of carrying it. More slow-paced with a scene or two reminiscent of Memento, this film captures the day-to-day life of guilt and jealousy, pulling back the curtain on what damage and unpredictability can do.
In 1989 an American woman is discovered dismembered in Tokyo. Lucy Fly (Alicia Vikander), a Swedish expat who is a translator and interpreter for corporations and government, is taken into custody for questioning. Lucy admits she knew the victim, Lily Bridges (Riley Keough), but offers little else in terms of facts or other background information. Though she isn’t talking, she’s remembering. Flashbacks — and flashbacks within flashbacks — tell the story of how she met and fell in love with Teiji Matsuda (Naoki Kobayashi), a strange and handsome street photographer. Later, at a nightclub, Lucy meets the free-spirited Lily, a young woman who has just arrived in Tokyo to find work and an apartment. Reluctantly pressured into helping Lily settle into Tokyo’s hectic urban life, Lucy slowly forms a symbiotic relationship with Lily that complicates Lucy’s relationship with Teiji, the photographer.
Unable to forget painful , deeply traumatic memories that have damaged her, Lucy is losing her grasp of reality. The pivoting of character arcs leads to the resolution of the murder with surprising twists and psychological redemption offered by a minor character.
The Japanese setting also adds a cultural dimension to Earthquake Bird, giving more complexity and suspense to the story. This is an oddball film with a constant undercurrent of subtle tension. Earthquake Bird – in both Japanese and English—is intriguing in its ability to plumb the depths of childhood pain, guilt, and family betrayal. The drizzle-gray cinematic shots of Tokyo and the notable, reflective performances of all cast members, particularly Alicia Vikander’s as a young Japanese-speaking woman, are unforgettable. (Vikander also speaks Japanese in a fluent, albeit foreigner’s, accent.) Earthquake Bird may be a challenge to understood and rejected by those who cannot adjust to the pacing and somewhat abrupt ending of this film. For the rest of us Earthquake Bird is definitely worth watching!
Note: Available on Netflix