For those who are still confused by Netflix’s Earthquake Bird, may we suggest reading up on Japan in the late 1980s. Yes, the key to understanding Earthquake Bird might just be its glamorous but doomed setting.
The psychological thriller follows Lucy Fly (Alicia Vikander), who becomes a murder suspect after her new friend, Lily Bridges (Riley Keough), ends up dead. Oh, and there’s a love triangle with a photographer that adds to all this mystery. But, it’s also really about Japan during a time of great prosperity and overindulgence.
The film is set in Tokyo, which, as a new Netflix video explains, is almost like another character in the thriller. In Earthquake Bird, Japan is portrayed as both “awe-inspiring for the characters and sometimes is incredibly disorienting.” It’s done by showing the characters partying extravagantly around the Tokyo district of Ginza. Lily and Lucy are singing karaoke and drinking in the bars, not unlike the real Japanese of this time, who had become more focused on spending than saving.
During the late '80s, Japan was in its “bubble era,” which meant the country’s economy was booming until it suddenly wasn’t anymore. After Japan’s stock market crashed in 1990, the country struggled with debt, slow economic growth, and stagnant wages. In 2018, The New York Times described the ‘80s as a “Lost Era” and “the last time many people in Japan felt rich and ascendant.”
Like the U.S., Japan in the ‘80s was a time of Day-Glo, shoulder pads, and excess. This is clear in scenes of Lucy at the disco surrounding by women in body-con dresses, all the rage back then, too. “Until a few years ago, most people saw the bubble period as a negative legacy, and it was considered quite tacky,” Japanese singer Kaori Masukodera told The New York Times last year. “That completely changed in the last few years, now people recognise it as kind of a cool period.”
Earthquake Bird, which takes place right before the bubble burst, is leaning into the coolness of it all, while also showing how intoxicating it was — and still is. Many in Japan, including Masukodera, are trying to bring bubble era style back. Watching the movie, it’s easy to see how someone could get caught up in Tokyo’s allure, which was a “party that was about to go off the rails,” according to Netflix’s explainer. Rather fitting, since Lucy and Lily are certainly caught up in something that was great for a while, until it all went a bit too far.
Earthquake Bird is streaming on Netflix now.