Earthquake Bird

dir. Wash Westmoreland, 2019

In Tokyo at night Alicia Vikander as Lucy Fly and Naoki Kobayashi as Teiji embrace each other; Teiji holds Lucy's head tenderly with his right hand to comfort her.
Image credit: A24

After a late start I get ahead on today’s feature. Monday plans include sending out job applications with one eye on the TV set. To echo Mac Miller’s 2013 LP, I enjoy watching movies with the sound off. For the sake of this process I’ll keep the volume at a gentle level. I decide on a low-key thriller: a repeat viewing of Wash Westmoreland’s Earthquake Bird. This one is ideal background material but it’s by no means white noise. Plus, its ominously ambient soundtrack was tended to by Nine Inch Nail’s Atticus Ross. It’s perfect fodder to pretend to work in front of.

Louisa ‘Lucy’ Fly (Alicia Vikander) is a Swedish expat in 1980s Tokyo. She’s there translating subtitles for Michael Douglas erotic thrillers and, of course, hiding from a murky past. She attempts to integrate into Japanese society although this darkness has kept tabs on her. Lucy meets Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi), a striking photographer who is as mysterious and antisocial as her. They begin a tense affair that leads to irrevocable consequences.

Lucy Fly connects with other expats who have also ‘flown’ from past lives. One of these is Lily (Riley Keough), a brash but beautiful American. When Lily hears about Teiji she’s keen on being introduced. At the beginning of the film there’s a clever shot that shows three trains intersecting through tunnels in the Ochanomizu area. It is an elegant foreshadowing of themes to come.

Earthquake is nostalgia-fixated but resistant to dwelling on the specific histories of its characters. It suggests that photographers are secretive people who are perhaps not to be trusted. It’s also a comfort story, in the way that quietly unsettling mysteries can be. A decent film should float questions but withhold complete answers. Doors are left ajar here.