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Earthquake Bird

Another guilty Netflix pleasure, Earthquake Bird is as predictable as it tries not to be. Labeled as a "psychological drama mystery thriller," directed by Wash Westmoreland, and based on the novel The Earthquake Bird by Susanna Jones, this November 2019 release is a great way to waste 108 minutes with the brain switched to low power mode. Alicia Vikander, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2016 for her performance in The Danish Girl, gives it her all in this Ridley Scott production. She even learned Japanese (by rote) to play the role—that of a gloomy Swedish girl living in Tokyo who's convinced herself that the people around her are at a high risk of instant death owing merely to their proximity to her—the sole reason, we suspect, that she has "escaped" to Japan.

Vikander is subtle with the character. A brief glance or a slightly flexed brow or a wee lift of the chin or a cheek tells us far more than most words could from Lucy Fly—her character. But the name Lucy? Really? Back to this in a sec. The other girl, Lily Bridges, a role nailed by Riley Keough, is a ditzy American just off the boat in Tokyo to work as a bartender (is she a hostess in the book?). We know from the beginning that she has gone missing, and is presumed murdered (the rest of the movie is mostly flashback sequences). And now back to the name Lucy, and with Lily killed, it was really hard not to think of Lucie Blackman. The novel came out the same year Blackman's remains were discovered, in 2001, the year after she was murdered. So watching Earthquake Bird I was uncomfortable with the possibility that Jones may have incorporated Blackman's killing into her pages of entertainment, or maybe it's just a gaping coincidence. Though wouldn't it have been respectful of Jones, or Scott Free, or Netflix to have at the very least changed the name Lucy/Lucie to something else?

I liked the shots of Tokyo. The location scouts, while they would have had a smorgasbord to choose from here, found some pretty cool places to shoot. And I liked the "earthquake bird" idea and wonder if this is really a thing (a distant, mysterious and very eerie bird call right after a fair-sized earthquake). I remember hearing something like it myself once after a quake, and figured it was probably a remote car alarm. I also liked that Ikebukuro, Sado Island, and other parts of Tokyo and Japan are mentioned and visited, not just Shinjuku with the Shibuya scramble crossing thrown in for effect as in lots of other Tokyo-set Western movies.

And that's about it. Those are the only parts that interested me, and also Vikander's sedate performance. The villain, if that's what he is, is grievously hollow. We're not given any motive or background for his obsession or violence or . . . who knows what? We don't know what it is because it's not touched on in the story. He's just a psycho. Full stop. Actually, at the end it seemed he might have been a danger simply because he was not a Westerner, or not a white Westerner. And by now shouldn't we all be exhausted with "the other" being the baddie just because he's "the other"? Wouldn't Earthquake Bird have delightfully surprised us if the Asian guy turned out to be an average Joe and the Swedish translator or dumb American blonde was the bloodthirsty sociopath? And what the hell did the sound of the earthquake bird have to do with anything else in the story?! Either I missed the significance and connection or I didn't care enough to pay attention.


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