Earthquake Bird sells the promise of an intoxicating ‘whodunit’ story that is both dreamy and sophisticated but unfortunately fails to deliver a lasting impression.
Set in 1989 Earthquake Bird tells the story of Lucy Fly, a troubled young translator who has lived in Japan for over five years. After becoming involved with an enigmatic photographer Teiji, Lucy becomes entangled in a world of jealousy, obsession and paranoia. After friend Lily goes missing, Lucy becomes the prime suspect when police discover a mutilated body part that could possibly belong to their missing victim.
Earthquake Bird is mature and slick, often the movie becomes tantalizingly hypnotic as the score, visuals, and drifting cinematography marry to create an atmosphere of seduction. Lucy (Alicia Vikander) is intense and cryptic, without normal boundaries she approaches a person taking her photographs on the street with welcome intrigue. This is how Lucy meets Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi), a straightforward photographer who finds refuge behind his camera as he captures the unplanned and mundane, ‘never asking permission’ to create a personal collection of intimate photos. The pair work to complement each other’s negative quirks as they encourage honesty and authenticity in their relationship. Lucy and Teiji’s relationship is put to the test when bouncy, loud American Lily (Riley Keough) comes into the scene, stirring the couple’s insecurities with catastrophic consequences.
The narrative itself is enjoyable, suspenseful and intriguing; it asks many questions and raises all sorts of societal questions, questions that were not answered and that were unfortunately wasted. The overall story is interesting enough, it’s a classic detective type story that leaves the audience wondering who the culprit may be. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for something that will leave you satisfied and proud of your predictions then Earthquake Bird may not be for you. The movie fails to remind audiences of the impending doom that is to befall Lily and in doing so fails to keep an air of foreboding, wasting a clear chance to play on the tense nature of the movie. Furthermore, Earthquake Bird misses the opportunity to explore substantially on matters of cultural appropriation and cultural fetishization. These kinds of subjects are brushed upon lightly but never really got to see the light of day as the characters fail to acknowledge these problems and the movie makes no effort to give them proper exposure.
Personally, the most notable issue is Earthquake Bird’s failure to be satisfying and coherent. Often the movie drifts from scene to scene, timeframe to timeframe with the little reference or guidance for the audience. Of course, this could have been used to confuse audiences but I’m not sure it was executed in an elegant or skillful manner. Moments of intensity and insight are often overshadowed as we cut too quickly to an unrelated scene or piece of information. This is ever more evident when Lucy tells police investigators about her childhood and after doing so the cop comments, ‘That’s a sad story,’ and Lucy responds, ‘Yeah, but it has nothing to do with the case’. Lucy was dead right. The writers’ attempt to squeeze in a little exposition and backstory feels out of place and clumsy as we all nod and agree to Lucy’s comment disregarding her own story’s importance. Following this, it is also safe to say Lucy is questioned by cops like no other, they hardly execute their jobs as they play the role of counselor instead, allowing Lucy to share too much irrelevant information, again making the exposition seem untimely and useless.
Overall, Earthquake Bird is attractive, sensual and interesting, it certainly has its faults when it comes to narrative and endings but nevertheless, there is an air of maturity that will appeal to many. Encouragingly the movie also seeks to share many details from the book that make Earthquake Bird an exciting watch for fans of the novel. On the other hand, the secondary characters hardly get a chance on screen and Lily is wasted as an American Stereotype, only reserved to cause trouble rather than be a three-dimensional character of her own. Most importantly without spoiling the movie, there seems to be little regard to motivation or explanation when it comes to what happened to Lily. Sure you will find out, but will you be content in resolution? Absolutely not and I’m sad to say that is why Earthquake Bird is at great risk of being quickly forgotten as an interesting little watch that will end completely for its audience at the credits.
Kelly has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Kelly gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.