Warning: This post contains spoilers for the ending of Earthquake Bird.
Earthquake Bird, a film adapted from Susanna Jones's 2001 novel of the same name, is an eerie psychological thriller that plays out in the busy streets of throwback Tokyo in 1989. The Netflix film opens with a jarring introduction to its lead character, a Swedish expat living in Japan named Lucy Fly (Alicia Vikander), who is currently under investigation for the disappearance of her friend.
At first sight, it's easy to tell that something is off about Lucy. She has strange energy around her, a chilling aura that seems to follow her. But she's used to the bad vibes. Despite having assimilated into Japanese culture after living in the country for five years, Lucy is perfectly content to be emotionally disconnected to the world around her, moving robotically through her life.
One day, Lucy sparks an instant attraction to a man on the street named Teiji (Japanese pop star Naoki Kobayashi). Teiji takes a photo of her, and somehow the two become one — an odd pairing of introverts. Even though it takes time for their dynamic to evolve into a romantic relationship (Teiji literally chafes at Lucy's initial attempt to set the mood), the two eventually fall into a peculiar but stable routine. They spend most of their time together in his makeshift photography studio, with Teiji quietly taking Lucy's picture.
Just as she's coming to terms with the now-central role of the stone-faced Teiji in her life, Lucy's world is totally upended by the arrival of Lily Bridges (Riley Keough). As Lucy grows closer to Lily, she finds herself in the center of a dizzying and dangerous situation where she is forced to question everything and everyone.
What's Lucy really doing in Tokyo?
Lucy left her home country of Sweden when she became an adult to achieve her childhood goal of being as far away from home as possible. Relatable, right? Who hasn't ever wanted to hop on a plane and jet off to see the world?
Our protagonist's reason for moving to Japan is a lot darker and far more complicated. When Lucy was a child, she was the victim of constant bullying by her seven brothers. An unfortunate incident between Lucy and one of her brothers led to his death and her subsequent social isolation by her family. Because of her trauma, Lucy didn't speak to anyone for three long years. In that time, she hatched a plan to start a new life. The first step was becoming fluent in Japanese.
Reserved and quiet, Lucy adjusts to life in Tokyo very easily. She finds a nice place in the city to live, gets a job that allows her to utilize her skills as a polyglot, and even joins a group of local women as part of their string quartet. Here, she is removed from the pain of her past and can be as silent as she wants without question.
Who is Lily Bridges?
Lily is the newest addition to Lucy's small circle of expatriate friends. She's only been in Japan in three weeks, but so far, it hasn't been what she expected it to be. Lucy is wary of her almost immediately. Lily is too loud, too bubbly, too high-energy, too much. Though he knows that Lucy is anti-social, her friend Bob asks her to take the breezy American under her wing (he's feeling Lily and wants to make a good impression on her). Begrudgingly, Lucy agrees.
Lucy's perception of the newcomer changes over time, with the two women becoming very close. Lucy discovers that Lily isn't the airhead she initially thought; while she lived in the States, Lily worked as a nurse in a hospital and saved lives. She's got substance.
Why did Lily move to Japan?
Fair question — she doesn't really have a good answer for it, either. During their first meeting at a local bar, Lily tells Lucy that living in Washington D.C. was too much for her, so she moved to Tokyo.
As the film unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that Japanese culture and social norms don't exactly suit the young woman. Unlike Lucy, who spent her childhood years learning Japanese so that she could easily assimilate, Lily doesn't speak the native tongue and seemingly has no intention of doing so. She's perfectly okay with being an outsider, as long as she's not on the outs with Lucy.
How do their stories intertwine?
The dynamic between Lucy and Lily is difficult to pin down. After an awkward first encounter, Lucy lets her guard down around Lily. She helps the newbie find her own place to live, teaches her some helpful Japanese phrases, and even lets her spend the night at her house. Though they are almost complete opposites, the women form a shaky friendship.
Teiji is a major source of tension in their relationship. Lucy, who is now fully obsessed with the amateur photographer, cannot stomach the fact that he gets along so well with Lily. When Lily is around, Teiji lets loose in a way she's never seen before; he smiles and dances and laughs, things that he doesn't do with Lucy. She suspects that she will lose him in time.
Her fears become a reality after a group trip to the dreamy Sado Island when Lucy discovers that Lily and Teiji are romantically involved. The discovery pushes her past the breaking point, leading Lucy to be the number one suspect in the police investigation into Lily's disappearance.
Lucy's story is already fraught with years of unresolved trauma, but the hidden nature of the people around her creates a situation that is as unstable as the city in which they live, constantly under threat of collapse.