The Earthquake Bird of this film’s title is said to be the bird sound you hear after an earthquake, when all is still and aside from car alarms, the only thing you can hear are the birds.
We are in Tokyo of the later 1980s, where Lucy Fly (Alicia Vikander) is working as a translator. We realise from posters and news reports, that a western woman has gone missing and is feared dead. Then the police come for Lucy and the film adopts a twin timeline, showing her interrogation by the Japanese police, with flashbacks showing the recent months of her life.
One day she’s walking outside when a photographer named Teiji (Naoki Konayashi) takes her picture. Slightly bristling at his rudeness, they end up going for a drink and she begins to form a relationship with the mild mannered and slightly repressed man. He just wants to take her photos – working in a noodle bar to support himself. She, perhaps, is looking for something more.
But she also begins to realise that she is not the first woman he has become infatuated with capturing on film.
Lucy’s social set includes Bob (Jack Huston) and Lily (Riley Keough) who has just arrived in Japan and is working behind a bar. Lucy bristles at Bob giving her the role of showing her the ropes – helping her get settled in an apartment and teaching her the basics of Japanese.
Lucy also spends time playing the cello as part of a string quartet, the remainder of the quartet being local middle-aged women.
But there’s a sadness within Lucy. She feels certain that death is following her. Accidents during childhood in her native Sweden have perhaps driven her to Japan. And something else happens now to make her all the more certain that something about her is wrong.
Meanwhile Taiji is showing slightly less interest in Lucy, and more in Lily.
This film is set up as a slow-boiled noir thriller. The location is an important part of things. Many of the characters are alienated from their surroundings, either by language in the case of Lily, or in the way that they have separated themselves from society with Lucy and Taiji.
Vikander learnt some Japanese to perform this role, and to my ears, she pulled it off (I suspect that she had assistance from hidden earpieces). The dialogue flits between English and Japanese in a very naturalistic manner. She captures the alienation of her character beautifully. She’s chalk and cheese to the loud and brash Lily.
I confess that I’ve not watched any of director Wash Westmoreland’s previous work, although a Blu Ray of his last film, Colette, sits near my player. Here, he’s adapted Susanna Jones’ novel himself, and I’d be curious to go back to the book to find out how close it is.
Atticus and Leopold Ross have created an eerie soundtrack that lends itself well to the film and adds to that sense of strangeness that pervades everything that’s going on.
In the London Film Festival screening, which was the film’s world premiere, I found myself sitting a few seats away from Sir Ridley Scott. The film is produced by his production company Scott Free, and Scott is listed on the film as a producer. Early in the film we see Lucy at work writing subtitles for an unnamed movie that featured Michael Douglas. I recognised this instantly being a lovely Easter egg. It was a clip from Scott’s own Black Rain, a thriller he made in Japan that was released in 1989, and that I had once owned on Laser Disc!