Movie Review: Flavors of Youth (INTL Ver.)

Life is an interesting journey with no clear map. We experience all that it has to offer us with its ups and downs, its consistencies and its surprises. The memories that we are most proud of and that possess the sharpest clarity in our minds are usually the ones with the most emotional impact, namely the ones that originate from our youth.

Flavors of Youth (Shikioriori) is an anthology of three short animated films depicting the lives of individuals reminiscing the days of their youth in three different Chinese cities.

Japanese animation film studio CoMix Wave Films, responsible for producing Makoto Shinkai’s latest work Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa) and Studio Haoliners Animation League collaborated together to create Flavors of Youth. The film was first premiered at Anime Expo, Los Angeles’ Anime Convention, on July 6th, 2018 and later released internationally via Netflix on August 4th, 2018.

All three stories featured in Flavors of Youth are stand-alone.

The first story, “The Rice Noodles” (Hidamari no Choushoku or Sunny Breakfast) and the third story “Love In Shanghai” (Shanghai Koi) follow the same kind of storytelling scheme in that it is told in a slower paced, first person point of view.

For these two stories, the protagonists are shown as people who are dissatisfied in their current situation. However, their recollections take center stage as the story’s main focus with the audience learning more about how these protagonists’ pasts are a moment in time that they cannot return to. These protagonists unconsciously hunger for the bygone days, which makes their stories realistic and relatable, but are not unpredictable.

The second story, “A Little Fashion Show” (Chiisana Fashion Show) differs from the other two stories. While it focuses on the theme of family in a tale about two sisters living in Guangzhou, China, it takes place and focuses itself in the present moment. It uses a flashback to help the elder sister, Yi Lin, come to the realization about how she neglected her role as a sister when she became too obsessed over her career. However, the storyline doesn’t concern itself too deeply with the past.

As stated previously, the third story does focus on the past as the story’s main focus but doesn’t completely abandon the present moment. It flips between the two to create drama. What it does differently compared to the first and second story is that it pushes its protagonist and its audience to move and look toward the future.

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It was a real “Awwww” moment.

In “The Rice Noodles” story, the protagonist, Xiao Ming, is used as a vehicle to reveal what life is like in Hunan. He grew up living with his grandmother, eating San Xian noodles for breakfast and played with marbles with his friends on the ground as a kid. In his teenage years, there weren’t many vehicles driving on the road, so students are shown commuting by bicycle to get to school.

The flaw of the first story is how Ming’s character is not explored at all. He doesn’t have a clear personality and the story reveals little factoids about his character.

Even the secondary characters appearing in Ming’s story are alive and are more interesting to watch than the protagonist, who is a bystander to the events happening around him.

I found that “The Rice Noodles” is the most poetic of the three stories in its execution. The backdrop shots allowed the story to breathe organically with a slow pace. The execution of the voice over work and the English dub script (in particular) made the first film quieter compared to the other two stories. The piano and strings instrumentals accompanying the visuals and voice over mixed well, but it was upon my second viewing of the movie that I noticed that the instrumental was present.

The English dub emoted happy nostalgia of someone looking at his past with a note of positive hopefulness whereas the Japanese sub was more subdued in emotion. The seiyuu‘s neutral quiet tone created a different feel to the same story. With the two different interpretations of Ming, the voice actors revealed more about him than what the film actually showed of this character.

It’s not to say that I greatly disliked “A Little Fashion Show” because I found Yi Lin relatable. Her character was flawed; she would complain if her manager lacked compassion or rather didn’t say the things she wanted to hear; she was the type to sleep in after partying so hard the night before and wasn’t the perfect picture of what a mature, responsible adult woman working in the city was supposed to be. At the same time, she pushed herself to be the best and made mistakes. I related to her failures and how she was able to pick herself up (slowly but surely) from her bad choices with the support of her loved ones.

Some supporting characters were slightly bland except for Yi Lin’s manager, Steve and her sister, Lu Lu because they both had back bones and didn’t put up with Yi Lin’s childish tantrums for long. None of the supporting characters acted as a foil for Yi Lin’s development because no one was used to contrast her character, other than Shui Jing, for obvious reasons.

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Shui Jing… Didn’t like her that much when she first appeared on screen.

The downside of “A Little Fashion Show” is its artwork. It didn’t shine as brightly compared to the first and third story, making it appear more unpolished. It didn’t have the same soft lines, use of gradiant colour or detail in the art style as the other two short films.

Of the three stories, it is the one that doesn’t make use of music to add emotional depth. Even with a second viewing of the film, I barely noticed any instrumentals used except for moments where Yi Lin was panicking internally and externally.

But its backdrops were still pretty to look at.

The difference in delivery for the Japanese and English voice acting for this story changed Yi Lin’s character.

I felt that the Japanese voice acting perfectly fit with her desire to achieve her dreams and retain a spirit of youthfulness despite her age. Even with her cheerful disposition, however, the acting during the climax of the story revealed how Yi Lin was denying all the warning signs about her poor life choices, how she tried to mask her insecurities, and how stubborn a character she is.

The English voice acting, on the other hand, made Yi Lin feel as if she was defeated from the very start. The script in both languages showcase Yi Lin’s insecurity earlier on in the story, but the voice acting made her insecurities more palpable throughout the story.

“Love In Shanghai” is the longest of the three stories and feels the most complete. The characters are a bit more fairly fleshed out as compared to the second story and the protagonist, Li Mo’s personality definitely changed over the course of his life. As I’ve mentioned previously, the story itself is not unpredictable but Xiao Yu’s story was particularly heartbreaking. The script could have gone down a direct first person point of view to showcase everything that had occurred to her but chose to reveal her story in an indirect way from a secondary source – all the information Li Mo gleaned is exactly the same as what is given to the audience.

Although the story is about the recollections of a failed romance, I found the underlying story about gentrification in an old urban district where the protagonist and his friends grew up was an interesting touch to add to the film. I particularly liked how this film included aspects of modern-day Chinese culture through its environment. In “Love in Shanghai” in particular, we get to see how the protagonist’s hometown changed overtime. Even though I come from a Chinese family, I’ve never gone and visited my grandparents’ home towns or visited China period. Watching this film left me with a sense of nostalgia with never having gone to the actual city shown on screen.

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This climatic portion ripped the feels right out of me.

I also felt like this story was complete visually because of its use of transitions between scenes and how it flips from present to past and back in quick snapshots to evoke emotion with the piano and strings music playing in the background. UGH. Meet me on the Feels Train, guys.

The voice acting overall for the third story was pretty good. Nothing much to say on this front.

Whether it is eating a delectable bowl of hot rice noodle soup hailing you back to your precious childhood memories on a cool rainy day, of almost losing everything you love out of the fear of growing older or tasting the bittersweetness of a young love you abandoned out of pride, Flavors of Youth tells us that despite how our past memories are no longer familiar to us as adults as they once were when we were children, those moments are still precious because they have shaped us into the people we are today.

Flavors of Youth definitely had its faults and its successes; it was an okay movie. It was good enough to watch once.

Have you seen Flavors of Youth? Let me know down below! 

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One thought on “Movie Review: Flavors of Youth (INTL Ver.)

  1. Love how you compared both versions of dubs. I have yet to see the movie, but this is one of the most holistic reviews I’ve read on it!
    Being of Chinese background as well (well, Taiwanese, to be precise), I feel like it would be a nostalgic film for me too.

    Liked by 1 person

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