London Film Festival 2019 – Earthquake Bird

Writer and Director: Wash Westmoreland

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Receiving its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, this Ridley Scott produced mystery is set in Tokyo in 1989. This steamy tale of obsession is an homage, too, –deliberate or not – to the films of this era such as 9½ Weeks (1986) and Single White Female (1992) where jealousy spirals out of control. But while Earthquake Bird seems slightly old-fashioned there’s still plenty to like.

In this adaptation of Susanna Jones’ novel, Alicia Vikander plays Lucy, a Swedish woman who has settled in Tokyo, working as a translator of Hollywood films. It takes eight days for letters to arrive from home, and telephone calls are prohibitively expensive, but Lucy savours being cut off from her family, and from the West. She thrives in Tokyo’s very difference. Other ex-pats are there too including newcomer American Lily Bridges, an excellently complex Riley Keough. Lucy is dismayed to learn that she has been tasked with helping Lily find her feet in the city.

Lucy would rather spend time with her new boyfriend, the mysterious photographer Teiji (a suitably enigmatic Naoki Kobayashi) who wants nothing more but to take endless pictures of her in his water-tower apartment. Lucy objects to the attention, but she’s enthralled with his fixation, and the reams of black-and-white portraits he adds to his collection. However, things take a turn for the worse when she wants to look at the other photos in his collection, locked, not so securely, in a filing cabinet.

Coming quickly after Still Alice and Colette, British director Wash Westmoreland continues to place women at the heart of his movies, although Lucy is not such a free spirit as the protagonists of these earlier films. Vikander is very good at portraying the spikiness of her character, who sees disdain in everything her brash American friend likes. Without seeming to do much, we observe Vikander register that her preconceptions may have been erroneous and she slowly adds menace to her growing obsession with Teiji

Working just as hard as Vikander, is the music by brothers Atticus and Leopold Ross, which gives the film most of its atmospherics, and its occasional thrill. The markets and mountains of Tokyo look stunning, though Westmoreland could have spent more on the island of Sado, with its famous animatronic miners, here almost unseen sadly. It’s a shame that the story doesn’t really square up the aesthetics and the sound, and soon the film unravels into the woman-in-peril narrative, another trope popular in the late 80s/90s.

This film is having a limited release before being moving on to Netflix, and perhaps the small screen is the perfect home for Westmoreland’s good-looking and occasionally exciting film. Nicely paced, and foreboding, this is fun to watch, but overall Earthquake Bird is more of a tremor.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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