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The Earthquake Bird is the critically admired and prizewinning 2001 mystery novel by the British author Susanna Jones, which has now been turned into an intriguing, if sometimes redundant, psychological noir for Netflix by the writer-director Wash Westmoreland.
The setting is Tokyo in the late 1980s, where the threat of intermittent earthquakes is treated as a fact of life. Alicia Vikander plays Lucy, a reserved and professional young woman from Sweden with fluent Japanese (and English) who works as a translator. She is disconcerted one day when a very handsome Japanese man, Teiji (played by the actor and J-pop star Naoki Kobayashi) who is photographing the reflections that buildings make in puddles of rainwater, turns his camera on her in the street and takes her picture.
Amused, nettled and attracted to this bold man, Lucy agrees to go for a meal with him. Soon they are having a passionate and obsessive affair, whose erotic steam-heat is connected with his need to photograph her. Then Lucy is chivvied by a friend into finding an apartment for an American woman, new in town: Lily (Riley Keough) who appears to be an annoying airhead – but actually isn’t, or not quite. The three find themselves hanging out à trois, with Lucy suspecting, with icy displeasure, that Teiji is attracted to the vacuous Lily. The tension starts to ratchet up towards violence.
There are some interesting and startling moments, particularly a shocking accident concerning a flight of stairs. Vikander is very believable as Lucy, a contained and enclosed personality and someone who finds Japanese culture congenial to her need to retreat from a painful past. Keough and Kobayashi are also good, though their roles perhaps under-imagined.
I was less taken with the wait-is-this-really-happening moments that tend to undermine the emotional currency in which the drama is presented to us. Some real tremors, though.
• Earthquake Bird is in UK and US cinemas on 1 November.
Source: The Guardian
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