SYNOPSIS: Memories in a bowl of steaming noodles, a fading beauty finding her way and a bittersweet first love- all in these stories of city life in China.
Flavours of Youth is an anthology about youth that weaves the past and present. It was released theatrically in both Japan and China, making more than USD $400k (CN ¥2.8 million) box office sales in China within two weeks. Touted as the latest work from award winning film studio CoMix Wave Films (known for its anime feature films with director Makoto Shinkai, in particular Your Name ) , it inevitably puts up the expectations of the movie. Co-produced with Shanghai based production house Haoliners Animation League, this international co-production attempts to bring together the best of both worlds.
The movie consists of three shorts, “The Rice Noodles” (“Hidamari no Choshoku”), “A Little Fashion Show” (“Chiisana Fashion Show”) and “Love in Shanghai” (“Shanghai Koi”). Each of these is set in different cities in China - Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai respectively. They work on a common theme of ‘growing pains’, and follows the character’s reminiscence of the past and its impact on his/her present.
The film opens with food, arguably a ‘universal theme’ that expresses a lot about culture and captures attention. Watching the intricacies in preparing a typical Chinese cuisine is indeed quite an eye treat. However, the narrative falls flat as the character development of the lead character is limited. The narration also seemed excessive. Perhaps the attempt to beautify the scenes took priority. The second short had significantly more substance, but still lacked the charms in recreating the magic.
The last short, “Love in Shanghai”, stood out the most against the rest. Set in the city of Shanghai, it explores not only the modern cityscape, but also the Shikumen (or lane houses), a Shanghainese architectural style which combines Western and Chinese elements. It explores the heritage more (back to cassette times and 90s), adds more texture to the backdrop and had more story and development compared to the other two shorts. However, as you may have guessed, this romance based short explores the theme of serendipity and missed opportunities, which might feel familiar as they’re commonly seen in the works of Makoto Shinkai. While it is not a 100% replica of his style, it’s not entirely original…. you get the gist! But of course this is not an attempt to dismiss it as an independent work - it does holds the story well and makes the best animation out of the three shorts.
Overall, this co-production may not be a classic in terms of animated feature films, but it is definitely an important opening to more of such cross-border collaborations happening. With the China’s market share for anime consumption growing significantly and their pool of great talents to produce them (e.g. The King’s Avatar in 2017), one can only imagine the vast potential of the work that can go out to the world by marrying the best of both worlds!
Review by Tho Shu Ling