Earthquake Bird (2019)
An enigmatic translator with a dark past is brought in for questioning after an ex-pat friend, who came between her and her photographer boyfriend, ends up missing and presumed dead.
This is a film that should have been so much better. The premise is actually pretty fantastic and I was well up for an ex-pat in Japan murder mystery – unfortunately it does fall a little flat. I don’t think it’s really anyone’s fault – the central performances are fine – the set pieces are lovely and Japan continues to be utterly beautiful.
The landscapes here seem a little more subdued than they usually appear on film. Sure we get some neon lit karaoke bars but for the most part the backgrounds are low key and functional, the apartments no frills. I think you could probably say the same about the characters.
We centre around translator Lucy Fly (Vikander) who begins a relationship with local photographer Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi). Things are fine enough until Lucy starts to show signs of suspicion, breaking into Teiji’s apartment and going through his things. When she finds a file of photographs of his old girlfriend, she torments herself with questions about their relationship.
These feelings of jealousy are exacerbated further when she meets Lily (Riley Keough), a young American woman. When she is persuaded to help Lily find an apartment, the trio grow closer and Lucy is not amused to note that her new friend and boyfriend appear to be attracted to each other. When she shows her jealous side, Teiji encourages it because she is his “girlfriend, after all”.
Lucy is should be said is rather a buttoned up person and at times, and as we learn, an unreliable narrator. That means that the whole sorry tale as it unravels might not even be the truth and we never really know whether we can trust her version of events. The story is unpacked across two timelines, the ‘present’ (e.g. Lucy being interrogated by police who have found the remains of a woman who may or may not be Lily) – and flashback, in which we are party to the development of this awkward love triangle.
The main question is: is Lily dead and did Lucy do it?
This does go on quite a big longer than necessary but there are some nice moments. I enjoy the concept of blame and responsibility – and as I mentioned, I really love how late 80’ Japan looks. There’s also a very shocking scene involving a freshly waxed staircase that I can’t get out of my head – so this is probably memorable for the wrong reasons.