Nostalgia is everywhere in this triptych of Chinese lives.
Going through the tedious cycle of life and trying to regain what I had cherished, I feel like I misplaced something. Numbed, we lose the taste of home. That taste which I had forgotten now comes back to me. The memories, where did they all go?
Netflix is a treasure trove of anime: from classics to original series the site has definitely put a tonne of work into acquiring some quality content. Somehow, however, this hasn’t translated all that well into its films. It has a few in there, such as The Castle of Cagliostro (with Disney owning Ghibli’s distribution rights, I doubt we’ll ever see any other Miyazaki films in there) and The Garden of Words, but if you want something else by Makoto Shinkai – such as Your Name or Five Centimetres Per Second – you’ll probably have to look elsewhere. However, they do provide us with something by Shinkai’s production company, which is also an original Netflix film in co-production with China. That sounds promising.
Flavours of Youth is actually an anthology film, with no film bearing any particular connection to the others, each with their (very subtle) art style and director. The first is the only one that really lends itself to the “flavours” in the English title: called The Rice Noodles or (“the haunting of breakfast” if my translation is any good), it deals with a young man called Xiao Ming who reminisces about his childhood, while waxing poetic in the narration. He remembers eating rice noodles at various places throughout his childhood, and the community events surrounding them. Now, along in Beijing, he feels the cold, corporate noodles he buys simply aren’t the same. And then, he returns to his home town.
The second is called A Little Fashion Show. Set in Guangzhou, it focuses on fashion model Yi Lin and her younger sister Lulu, who designs clothes in her spare time. Yi Lin is afraid she’s too old for her job, as newer talent seems to be taking over everywhere. Meanwhile, Lulu feels abandoned by her sister. And lastly is Love in Shanghai. Li Mo is a young architect who finds an old cassette in a box of his belongings, after he moves to Shanghai. The tape reminds him of his time in the old shikumens of the city, and of the girl he used to know: how their friendship and eventual romance played out, before ultimately dying. The tape he finds seems to confirm a truth he’d been fearful of for years.
Each of these stories is very short, clocking in at maybe 20-25 minutes each. The plots contained are all very quick, which is both a blessing and a curse. The first two suffer from this, while the third actually uses it to its advantage – and as a result is easily the best of the three. The problem with the others is that they never feel like they’re fully developed and by the time things take interesting, deep turns, the film ends and we’re about to start a new one. Neither of the first two feel like they know how to really take advantage of its runtime. Thankfully, Love in Shanghai instead gives us something of a quick and easy mystery, which resolves nicely (and heart crushingly) in its short time.
As if often the case with CoMix Wave Films, the designs here are beautiful. Maybe not as much as with their Shinkai films, but here they still boast some of the most stunning background pieces in anime cinema. However – and I don’t want to make assumptions, but I get the impression that this is where the Chinese Haoliners Animation League comes in – the character animation in every segment is somewhat lacking. The character design feels a bit lazy, and the way they move in the scene is extremely flat and doesn’t do a lot to sell the illusion of life, especially when the backgrounds are so gorgeously rendered.
Perhaps Flavours of Youth – which I only now realise I’ve been misspelling due to being British – is allowed to miss the mark a bit, especially when compared to CoMIx’s other projects. On top of focusing on Chinese lives and working with another company, the film works as a showcase of young directorial talent. There isn’t a line-up of skilled anime veterans here: hell, they don’t have 10 IMDb credits between them, with the most going to Xiaoxing Yi whose Wikipedia page reads like it was written by himself. You can’t scrutinise this film the same way you would a Miyazaki production, and based on what I’ve seen I think these three talents have a hell of a future before them.
In the end, Flavours of Youth is a mixed bag. None of the bad stuff is so bad as to ruin the film, and if you’re not a fan of a particular short, you can rest assured it won’t be on for a huge amount of time. Add in that it never overstays its welcome with a pleasantly short 74-minute runtime, and it’s hard to really fault it when it does a lot things right. It has characters that are all relatable, understandable and very pleasant to be around, and the majority of the artwork in it is predictably great to look at. If you haven’t been through CoMix’s filmography and are choosing this one, then go and watch something by Shinkai, but if – like me – you’re scrolling through Netflix looking for something pleasant and anime, this will do a hell of lot better than Blame!.
Verdict: Hardly perfect, Flavours of Youth nonetheless is a sweet drama worth seeing once.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Nerdy male protagonists: 2
Feels: One punch in the gut
People looking out of windows: loads
Flavours of Youth (2018)
Also known as: Japanese: 詩季織々, lit. “From Season to Season”
Directors: Li Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing, Yoshitaka Takeuchi
Writers: Li Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing, Yoshitaka Takeuchi
Taito Ban – Xiao Ming
Mariya Ise – Young Xiao Ming
Minako Kotobuki – Yi Lin
Haruka Shiraishi – Lulu
Hiroki Yasumoto – Mr Steve
Takeo Otsuka – Li Mo
Ikumi Hasegawa – Xiao Yu