If Gone Girl was about the expectation placed on women to be the ‘cool girl’, Earthquake Bird – a spiritual cousin to David Fincher’s thriller – is about another unrealistic gender expectation: the ‘serene girl’.
Alicia Vikander is Lucy Fly, an expat living in late-’80s Tokyo who becomes enthralled by a handsome local photographer Teiji Matsuda (Naoki Kobayashi). Teiji is a smart idea for a villain, one of those guys who is direct, calm and stoic to an extent that they seem attractive, but also vaguely psychopathic. Lucy is no extrovert either, and the pair find solace in each other’s company and quickly form a passionate relationship. Trouble starts to brew, however, with the arrival of Lily Bridges, a sexy, slightly-giddy American new to town who both Lucy and Teiji begin to lust after. Lily is played by Riley Keough, who has become the go-to actress in Hollywood for characters that serve as a temptation to the protagonist.
Adapted by director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice, Colette) from Susanna Jones’ book of the same name, Earthquake Bird feels very novelistic – you can sense the prose behind these characters and their interactions – but not in a way that it feels dense and stuffed (like novel adaptations so often can). This is actually a very straightforward movie, but pleasantly so – a simple thriller about a love triangle and a missing girl.
Equally pleasing are all of the Japanese cinematic staples, or if you’re feeling uncharitable, tropes, that are scattered throughout the film. Lucy goes to a karaoke bar, clips a bonsai tree, prepares tea in a kimono on a tatami floor. These scenes are put together beautifully though, with lovely period details and sumptuous cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon that is not at all showy and manages to reflect the composure and elegance of Japan.
Mirroring the quiet peacefulness of her surroundings, Alicia Vikander has to convey a lot of emotion without words in this film. We watch as she silently crumbles while Teiji and Lily become close and start to leave her behind, pretty thoroughly gaslighting her along the way. Vikander manages the feat magnificently and also deserves props for going to the lengths of learning Japanese for the role. We can’t attest to her accent, but she delivers her Japanese lines naturally enough that it doesn’t pull you out of the narrative.
However, for all of Earthquake Bird‘s positives (Atticus Ross also delivers a strong score), something does feel missing. The film loses steam in its final act and starts to strain credulity as things come to a head, while minor characters feel simply a bit superfluous to the action.
Nevertheless, this Netflix offering is a perfectly enjoyable watch, and in spite of its dark subject matter is oddly meditative in its composition. It examines an interesting idea: that saying ‘let’s not be like all those other couples, lets just be permanently chill and not let anything faze us’ is all well and good, but when something inevitably does faze one member of the relationship, it can lead to hidden pain that eats away at you until there’s nothing left.
- Director: Wash Westmoreland
- Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kiki Sukezane, Kenichi Masuda
- Release Date: 15 November 2019