Earthquake Bird

Review by Josh Slater-Williams @jslaterwilliams

Directed by

Wash Westmoreland

Starring

Alicia Vikander Naoki Kobayashi Riley Keough

Anticipation.

An ’80s Tokyo-set psychosexual thriller with Alicia Vikander and Riley Keough sounds interesting.

Enjoyment.

Paul Verhoeven, where art thou?

In Retrospect.

Earthquake Bored.

Alicia Vikander and Riley Keough flounder in tepid psychosexual thriller, based on the Susanna Jones novel.

A few minutes into Earthquake Bird, Alicia Vikander’s Lucy Fly is shown translating an English-language film into Japanese for what we soon learn has been her job in Tokyo for a number of years. The film in question is Black Rain, Ridley Scott’s cross-cultural action movie in which Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia play New York City cops escorting a Yakuza member back to Japan for extradition.

It’s a cute nod given that Scott Free Productions is one of the companies behind this Netflix-distributed film, and that Black Rain opened in 1989, the year in which Earthquake Bird is set. But the reference ends up backfiring. While the general consensus on Scott’s film remains largely negative, not least due to its use of Asian stereotypes, many of its detractors have nonetheless pointed to the director’s stylistic excesses as a positive. By contrast, Wash Westmoreland’s adaptation of Susanna Jones’ 2001 novel is a pedestrian thriller lacking any zest or flair.

This is despite the efforts of DoP Chung Chung-hoon (The Handmaiden) and Atticus Ross, one of three credited composers. In front of the camera, usually reliable leads flounder. While Vikander delivers her Japanese dialogue with great assurance, her performance is otherwise restrained to the point of lethargy – not an ideal scenario for a love triangle-oriented psychosexual thriller.

The story sees Lucy questioned by Tokyo police over the disappearance of ex-pat friend Lily (Riley Keough), who is presumed to have been murdered. Lucy is evasive with the detectives but recounts how she came to be in a relationship with a mysterious photographer, Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi), who was sympathetic to her tragic past, and how the arrival of the more upbeat and carefree Lily drove a wedge between them.

Lucy’s recollections are not to be taken at face value, but the film’s superficial psychological probing prevents us from becoming too wrapped up in proceedings. There’s a conspicuous lack of tension, both in terms of the murder mystery and the central romance. On an early date of sorts, Lucy and Teiji take shelter together in a confined space during a brief earthquake, but the chemistry between Vikander and Kobayashi lacks the intended seismic intensity.

Published 31 Oct 2019

Tags: Alicia Vikander Riley Keough Wash Westmoreland

Anticipation.

An ’80s Tokyo-set psychosexual thriller with Alicia Vikander and Riley Keough sounds interesting.

Enjoyment.

Paul Verhoeven, where art thou?

In Retrospect.

Earthquake Bored.

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