Earthquake Bird

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Earthquake Bird Movie Poster Image
Absorbing but slow tale has nudity, language, violence.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 106 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

After confronting and examining a painful past, it may be possible to restore growth and hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Guilt-ridden, unstable heroine is forced to process events in her past. As she deals with them, she calls upon unrealized courage, her survival instincts, and determination. 


Moody and suspenseful throughout. Infrequent violent scenes: a woman falls to her death; a man drowns; a bloody struggle. A character recounts violent acts that happened in her childhood. Mild earthquakes occur.


Passionate kissing and foreplay; sexual intercourse; nudity (full-frontal wide shots).


Occasional profanity, including: "f--k," "ass," "s--t."


References to Sapporo beer and Olympus camera.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters drink in social situations (beer, whiskey). A police officer smokes cigarettes. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Earthquake Bird is a dark, moody psychological thriller based on the novel by Susanna Jones. As the uncooperative heroine, a European expat living in Japan, is questioned by Tokyo police about the disappearance of an American woman, the story is revealed in layered flashbacks and memories from her past. Every scene is infused with a sense of mystery and foreboding. The character notes early on that "Death follows me," and there are violent or disturbing images that confirm that: a fall, a dead body floats in a river, a bloody, brutal fight. Viewers will witness passionate intercourse with partial nudity, as well as wide shots of nude people entering a pool (including full-frontal nudity). Sexual tension is an underlying feature of the film. Occasional profanity is heard, i.e. "ass," "s--t," and "f--k." Alcohol is consumed by adults in social situations (beer, whiskey); a police officer smokes cigarettes. Mature teens only.

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What's the story?

After news that a body part from a missing American woman has been recovered, Lucy Fly (Alicia Vikander) is taken into custody by Tokyo police for questioning in EARTHQUAKE BIRD. Lucy admits she knew possible victim Lily Bridges (Riley  Keough), but little else. The police intensify their interrogation, getting only terse answers from Lucy, but though she isn't talking, she's remembering. Lucy has endured more than her share of tragedy and abuse. Flashbacks -- and flashbacks within flashbacks -- tell the story of how she met and fell in love with Teiji Matsuda (Naoki Kobyashi), a strange but compelling street photographer, then was introduced to Lily, a young woman as flamboyant and needy as Lucy is reserved and independent. The emotional complexities intensify when Lucy introduces Lily to Teiji. Guilt-ridden from a past she tried to escape, wholly insecure, and fragile, Lucy's attempts to protect her relationship propel her to make mistakes that lead to tragedy.   

Is it any good?

In this story framed by what may be a cruel murder, director Wash Westmoreland chooses to keep his camera on Alicia Vikander's intelligent and radiant performance; that decision serves him well. Ably supported by the other members of the cast, Vikander gives Earthquake Bird its dramatic heft. Patience is required at times because the film moves slowly. It feels, occasionally, as if the viewer is already steps ahead of the filmmaking team. But, with its credible, original backstory revealed bit by bit, and the emotional investment the heroine inspires, it's worth a look for older teens and adults.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies that are meant to surprise. Were you surprised by events in Earthquake Bird? Looking back, can you pinpoint events or character quirks that the filmmaker used to justify the movie's ending?

  • In what ways is Japan a critical element -- or character -- in this film? How did the fact that both Lucy and Lily were foreigners heighten the suspense? 

  • Find out what the term film noir means. How does this film fit the description of that genre? Be media savvy -- learn about the origins and history of film noir.

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

Themes & Topics

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