Flavors of Youth (2018) – Film Review

Flavors of Youth anime posterFlavors of Youth -International Version-

Directed by Ling Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing and YoshitakaTakeuchi

Produced by CoMix Wave Films and Haoliners Animation League

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

This market-friendly anthology film has been promoted as the latest release featuring the studio behind 2016 runaway success Your Name. While director Makoto Shinkai is not featured, there are definitely shades of Kimi no Na wa in this – although that is a small highlight in a collection seemingly made with mixed intentions.

Literally translating as ‘From Season to Season’, Flavors of Youth is an anthology film following three different coming-of-age stories in different Chinese cities. ‘The Rice Noodles’ follows Xiao Ming, a young man working in Beijing who reminisces about the San Xian noodles he used to eat as a child growing up in a countryside village in Hunan Province. The second story is ‘A Little Fashion Show’ and follows Yi Lin, a model working in Guangzhou while looking after her younger sister, student fashion designer Lulu. Yi Lin is becoming increasing frustrated with her work, and when she loses a gig to a younger, aspiring model she begins to question her work. Finally is ‘Love in Shanghai’, following a young Li Mo growing up in 1990s Shanghai alongside his school love Xiao Yu. The two of them would frequently record tapes for each other to listen to, so when Li Mo finds an unheard tape in the modern-day as he moves into a modern apartment overlooking their old neighbourhood, he is compelled to find his old cassette player, sending him on a journey through his youth.

Anthology films of this kind are quite common in Japanese animation – relatively easy to produce compared to a full-fledged feature, it is a simple way of giving promising talents a shot while also keeping the ills of major anime companies turning over. Many of these are quite successful, both in terms of box office and critical reception, so it’s not like it can’t be done – it just hasn’t been done very well here.

The first story is noticeably more bland than the others. Seemingly the inspiration for the title, the idea of using a bowl of food to take us through this guy’s memories is a good one, however its execution is quite poor. Consisting of little more than an animated monologue, this story feels increasingly monotonal, with very little payoff until the main moment near the end. Even that, though, feels a little plain, with too little build up and no sort of conclusion to the overall story.

A lack of concluding payoff is a theme in many anthology films, but it seems to be particularly bad in Flavor of Youth. Most of the stories don’t even get to peter out, getting quickly cut before any kind of scene is created. It’s for this reason that A Little Fashion Show is probably the most rewarding story. While it is also the most cliché tale of the three, the attractive modern setting and genuinely enjoyable, emotional characters make it a somewhat engrossing watch, while it also does the best job of delivering a gratifying ending.

The final story, however, is certainly the headliner. While I’m not sure about the timings, you can feel that much more time and attention went into Love in Shanghai, which has created a much more fulfilling story. The characters are interesting and the story had a sense of originality about it. However, while the setting is interesting there is not enough attention given to it, and once again even this tale is given the weakest and most ambiguous of endings.

Flavors of Youth Love in Shanghai Screenshot

I discovered something particularly interesting about this project, which helps to shine a light on this film’s outcome. This project was actually pitched when Haoliners formed in 2013, supposedly by Li Haoling, who looked to create a Chinese version of Shinkai’s 5 Centimetres Per Second, a romance anthology along similar lines to Love in Shanghai, which was also directed by Li. However, ComixWave rejected the idea. Since then, not only has Haoliners made deep moves into the Japanese anime scene, but China has also established itself as a huge market for global film – ComixWave’s Your Name was the highest grossing Japanese film of all time in China. Therefore, in 2018, this was a film that suddenly looked a lot more appealing to the money-makers, even if the story wasn’t spectacular.

While the name CoMix Wave Films attracts the most attention, their motive for making this is quite simple – it keeps the tills ticking over while Makoto Shinkai prepares his follow-up to Your Name (supposedly to be released later this year). The more interesting point, here, is Haoliners; the new, heavily-backed Chinese animation company has been trying to force its way into the Japanese scene for a while, with mixed results to say the least. Unfortunately, my view of Haoliners’ anime is not good – you could argue that it equates to soft power – and this latest attempt, like the majority of their work, screams of promotion more than actual craft.

Flavors of Youth is a nice little series, with good animation and a pleasant soundtrack creating an atmospheric experience. However, its motives are clearly not 100% in the story, which leaves every hurriedly-concluded tale with a disappointing aftertaste.

Interested in reading more? Check out our review on Makoto Shinkai’s anime hit Your Name!

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