FLAVORS OF YOUTH’s 詩季織々 Allure Lies in Nostalgia and Food4 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
In neat apartments and orderly rows of high-rise buildings, three city dwellers find themselves reminiscing about simpler times from their youth. But as times change, so do people, no matter how hard they try to hold onto what has long gone.
Directors: Li Haoling, Jiashou Yi Xiaoxing, Yoshitaka Takeuchi
Cast: Taito Ban, Mariya Ise, Minako Kotobuki, Haruka Shiraishi, Hiroki Yasumoto, Takeo Otsuka, Ikumi Hasegawa
Country: Japan, China
Runtime: 75 minutes
With all the hype over Weathering With You (2019), the highly anticipated film by Makoto Shinkai following his award-winning Your Name (2016), let’s ease the wait by losing ourselves in an animation film that came from the same studio. (Psst, look out for our review on Weathering With You that’s coming soon!)
Flavors of Youth (2018) came as a collaboration between the Japanese CoMix Wave Films and the Chinese Haoliners Animation League. Available on Netflix, the anime drama film can be a surprising change for loyal fans as it roots itself in the heart of China. However, the signature art style that blends realism with a dash of mysticism promises a visual treat for viewers looking to settle themselves into a familiar world.
The film follows three stories that play loosely with the idea of a happier, youthful past self. In The Rice Noodles, Xiao Ming’s memories of his favourite rice noodles are always linked to important figures in his life – people whom he dearly misses after he leaves his hometown. A Little Fashion Show shares the upbeat mood of a confident model, Yi Lin, who has to come to terms with an unexpected blow to her career and her relationship with her younger sister, both of which she has painstakingly strived to preserve. Love in Shanghai is self-explanatory: Li Mo chances upon a cassette tape given to him by his childhood crush and rushes to find out if he had let an opportunity slip through his fingers.
With a straightforward approach to the idea of familiar flavours being personal memoirs of the past, The Rice Noodles establishes itself as a strong beginning, tantalising us with the detailed preparation of San Xian noodles. Appetite-whetting shots of a golden yellow fried egg and the careful assembly of different ingredients pay off in inducing a sensory, mouth-watering experience. Every thoroughly animated noodle strand swirling in a bowl of hot soup parallels Flavors of Youth’s immense efforts to evoke from us an emotional response.
However, in an attempt to mark itself as soul-stirring, the film has resorted to some rather overt means. Packed with wistful sayings (“I always realise the value of things after losing them.”), Flavors of Youth seems solely motivated to induce tears. Apart from A Little Fashion Show, the other stories that make up the film are somewhat clichéd and predictable, which then focuses our attention on how the stories are being executed.
But the film’s rendition fails to stand out. As most of the dialogue appears as voiceover narration of the characters’ thoughts, they conveniently dictate the mood and direction of the individual stories. By turning the dial up on dramatic reading and moving piano music, the supposedly heart-warming tales appear to adopt a standard formula to make emotional impact.
Then again, the visual spectacle that Flavors of Youth does not compromise on may make the film still worth the watch. Introducing to us a world that is so vividly familiar but given an animated twist, the film does not hold back on presenting impressive cityscapes with vibrant use of colour. Like what Xiao Ming muses as he comes to terms with his life that constantly requires him to adapt, “Some things never change, some things will change.”
It is also commendable that despite the short screen time each narrative strand has, all of them consistently deliver well fleshed-out plots with sufficient backstory and character development. For a film that deals with the progression of time, the multiple directors who worked on Flavors of Youth have all managed to succinctly convey stories that span across time periods, even opening up doorways to the future.
As the characters grapple with their past and present in the shared space of a seemingly impersonal city, what stays with us most is lingering snapshots of the modern city – a reminder that beauty can still be found even when all hope seems to be lost.
Flavors of Youth is available for viewing on Netflix. Here’s the trailer to get a sneak of what you’ll be in for: