One of the movies I have long been looking forward to is Earthquake Bird, based on the novel by Susanna Jones. I am quite a Japanophile, with a formal study in the Japanese language. That is besides my education as a software
engineer. Neither the original novel nor this movie are long. The original source material is barely more than a novella. But what it lacks in brevity it makes up in suspense. The movie is a faithful adaptation and while exciting it
fails in the second half when the suspense becomes lackluster and it cannot build on the groundwork laid by the first half. However, for those interested in Japan or Alicia Vikander I strongly recommend this movie.
Earthquake Bird is a movie by director Wash Westmoreland and stars Alicia Vikander as Lucy Fly. While the Lucy from the novel is described as not particularly pretty, in fact she states she is built like a tank and is only able to seduce drunk men, Alicia’s Vikander’s depiction feels very similar. Lucy always shows restraint besides her sense of curiosity.
Lucy is 34 years old and has been living in Tokyo for 10 years, she left her home in Yorkshire, England under a cloud and has never looked back. Lucy is rather introverted and lives in semi-isolation. One day while walking she runs into Teiji, a local photographer who takes her pictures. They begin dating and start a relationship. They understand they are both kind of weird. Lucy only slowly tells him of her youth while Teiji apparently never sells any of his photographs.
Meanwhile the movie also flashes forwards. Lucy is being held by the police regarding the disappearance of another British expat called Lilly Bridges. Lilly was the anti-thesis of Lucy and despite a difficult start they build up a friendship. Things take a turn for the worst when a love triangle develops between Lucy, Teiji and Lilly while the three are on a trip to Sado Island of the West coast of Japan. After returning home it is clear that there is more between Lilly and Teiji then either would admit. A furious Lucy stops all contact with either. A visit by Lilly ends up in a bitter argument after which
Lilly goes missing. Lucy is being held for questioning because the remains of a young woman have been found in Tokyo Bay, though the body is dismembered and no positive identification can be made.
Slowly as the movie runs its course we start to understand that Lucy thinks she is responsible for a number of deaths around her. From the death of one of her abusive brothers, the father of a childhood friend and recently a Japanese
woman with whom Lucy was playing cello. This woman slipped after Lucy accidently surprised her on the stairs.
As such the story continues to cast doubt with the viewer. We do not see everything Lucy gets up to, as such she is an unreliable narrator. Slowly the events she recalls during the police interrogation catch up with the present. Every step further makes it seem as though Lucy could have killed Lilly and possibly also Teiji. However, the police eventually release Lucy when it is uncovered that the body is not Lilly’s.
The resolution of Earthquake Bird
Lucy breaks into Teiji’s home to find the closure she desperately needs. There she finds a folder containing the photos Teiji took of her and of Lilly. The last set of photos shows an increasingly despondent Lilly. The very last image is that of a dead Lilly. Lucy takes the photos to the police station but the detective that questioned her is not there.
When Lucy returns to her home she finds an inebriated Teiji. He begs her to leave with him, but she drops the file with the pictures of her and Lilly in front of him. After refusing him Teiji starts to strangle her, but Lucy manages to crack a fish bowl over his head. Teiji dies when he pulls a shard of glass from his head.
The final scene might seem like a vindication for Lucy but the viewer is left wondering her own role in the affair. It was Lucy who was perpetually jealous of the love triangle she previously approved. It was she who put Lilly in a bad mental state while the latter was known to be impulsive. In a final meeting with Miss Kato Lucy tells her of the people that have died around her. She mentions the accident on the staircase of that very same house. However, it is Miss Kato who ends up apologizing. She had the staircase recently waxed and forgot to tell their mutual friend.
Conclusion of Earthquake Bird
It is hard to form a definite opinion on the movie, for that it might just be too abstract. Not unlike many other drama movies from Japan. Simply put there is not enough suspicion to think that Teiji murdered Lilly or was even a serial killer. Teiji took pictures of people even when they were hurting, or unconscious or even dead as in the case of his aunt. Is it then so strange for him to have in his possession a picture of a dead Lilly? He surely disposed of her body, but killing her is in doubt.
Ultimately this might be seen as the biggest failure of the movie, and the original source novel. The story is set up as a whodunit, even if it rarely comes to the point. In the second half there is simply not enough suspense to point to any event or suspect. The viewer is simply obligated to watch the events unfold. I suppose that was the point the author wanted to make. Rarely is live so easy to understand you could tie a ribbon on it.
That said, Earthquake Bird has plenty of other interesting facets. It is a wonderful depiction of Japan in the late 80s and its culture in general. The cinematography is impressive but not overstated. The novel depicted the sexual
relationships of the principal protagonists in graphical detail. The movie is more understated and depicts them in a more sensuous way. My hat goes off to Alicia Vikander for playing Lucy Fly. Riley Keough also did a good job as Lilly
though I miss the Yorkshire accent I associated with the character. Naoki Kobayashi maintains a perplexing façade as Teiji that only reveals itself at the end of the movie.
Earthquake Bird is currently available on Netflix for streaming.