I was finally able to watch Flavors of Youth, and it was…fine. It was far from the worst thing I’ve seen but I wasn’t particularly impressed.
I assumed that the film anthology would focused more on food because of the title. However, the film is focused on ideas of nostalgia, different kinds of love, and the simple pleasures in life. Which isn’t a bad thing; a lot of Studio Ghibli movies have the same idea but the shorts didn’t really don’t weave together well to form a coherent narrative. They feel seperated and awkward.
According an IGN article, the stories are based on a Chinese idiom about the four necessities in life: food, clothing, housing and transportation. This isn’t explained anywhere in the film, so Western audiences can be left a little confused.
All the stories take place in China; each one features a different city and cast of characters. None of three “episodes” are similar in length which kind of makes the film feel unbalanced and awkward.
The first short, “The Rice Noodles”, was my favorite because of its simplicity. The story focuses a man reminisces about the role that noodles have played in his life. It’s told mostly through narration: we get to see how he and his grandmother bonded over a particular dish from a neighborhood restaurant. Despite it closing when he was quite young, he recalls the taste as though he had just eaten there for lunch.
He then discusses a second restaurant, one he frequented in middle school partially because of the food and partially because his crush rode past there everyday on her bike. It to eventually closed.
The story even documents the process by which all the noodles in his life are made, from the fresh, homemade noodles of his youth to the disappointing ones he picks up from a chain restaurant as an adult desperate to recapture that feeling.
It’s very powerful. And very relatable.
Everyone has a favorite food or favorite restaurant. Everyone can relate to having a restaurant they care alot about close down. For me, it was a local Chinese place. Though we have a lot of places, this one was the best. But when I was in college, it caught on fire. Somebody purposely burned it down. They were never caught. Luckily, nobody was harmed but my family struggled to find a replacement.
Yet, not long ago, it re-opened in a new location. The feeling was palpable. We order Chinese more frequently now, and they’ve become very familiar with our regular order.
For me, though there is very little plot, the emotion was powerful enough to make up for that fact.
The second short, “A Little Fashion Show”, is focused on the relationship of a model named Yi Lin who has come at a crossroads in her career; her job has caused her to miss out on events with her little sister Lulu and another younger model is about to steal her spotlight.
Food does play a small role, as Lulu is a pretty amazing cook and Yi Lin herself is struggling with an eating disorder, but this idea doesn’t get a lot of attention. I understand this is supposed to the “clothing” focused episode, but I find this story line much more interesting than what’s presented.
I don’t have much else to say, I did like it but thought it dragged on in places. There’s a lot of characters and I think the story could have been more condensed.
“Love in Shanghai” is the third short. This one focuses on both “housing” and “transportation.” Honestly, it’s biggest issue was that it tried to do too much in a short amount of time.
The short focused on a young college student who comes across a cassette tape made by his childhood crush. The two went to separate high schools and haven’t seen or heard from each other since, as it took place during the pre-social media era. The story builds on their past as he goes back home to find her.
This episode is heavily focused on regret. The protagonist Li Mo is dead-set on getting into a particularly difficult high school as a youth so he can be with his crush. But in doing so, he forgets about her and ignores the tape she made and eventually forgets about it. And since she doesn’t get accepted, the two are seperated.
I wish we had gotten to know the other characters better. Li Mo’s friend is there in the background and his crush feels more like an idea than a person (which is probably intentional but still). Instead, it was focused on Li Mo, who never really left an impression on me.
But the idea behind this short reminds me of Your Name, and if it expanded the world, themes and characters, it could be really interesting movie. And it could deconstruct the popularized “soulmate” trope considering that Li Mo isn’t that great of a person.
The animation and voice acting are pretty good, which makes the film worth a try. Personally, I wish they had found a way to balance or intertwine the shorts together. To me it felt kind of random though again I acknowledge I was unfamiliar with the Chinese idiom. I wish they had evened out the length of each story so that they were equal, or that they had split the anthology into four parts instead of three so each “necessity” got its own story.
And that’s the scoop!
“The Rice Noodles” Score: 7/10
“A Little Fashion Show” Score: 5/10
“Love in Shanghai” Score: 6/10
Length: 74 minutes
Available: Netflix, Theaters in Japan and China
Producer: Noritaka Kawaguchi
Directors: Li Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing, Yoshitaka Takeuchi
Voice Actors: Taito Ban, Mariya Ise, Takeo Otsuka, Ikumi Hasegawa, Minako Kotobuki, Haruka Shiraishi, Hiroki Yasumoto