A healthy mix of salty and sweet.
Flavors of Youth is the next animated film from the studio behind the hit 2016 movie Your Name. A commercial and critical phenomenon, Your Name elevated CoMix Wave Films to a whole new level. Flavors of Youth continues their animation excellence, but with a different style of execution.
Flavors of Youth is composed of three episodes that tell completely different stories. Their themes are based on a Chinese idiom (衣食住行) that states the four basic necessities of life: food, clothing, housing, and transportation. As indicated by the film’s title, each story also showcases how each of these themes impact the protagonists’ youth. For instance, in the first episode, The Rice Noodles, does a decent job of interpreting the theme of food.
The Rice Noodles follows Xiaoming who, upon eating some noodles, is swept back to his childhood. This episode is a tour of his life told through his memories of the noodles he ate at key points in his life, and how those bowls of noodles tied him to various important relationships he had in his youth.
CoMix Wave uses beautiful imagery to further convey his fondness for the days of his youth. The rice noodles are strikingly detailed in his memories, creating the most mouth-watering food that I’ve ever seen in an anime (sorry, Food Wars). The noodles glisten in the soup, and they shine even brighter in the sunny days of his youth. The environments are equally satisfying to look at, featuring cheerful orange and yellow hues. But when The Rice Noodles switches to present day where Xiaoming is an adult, it is the exact opposite. It is a dark and rainy night, and the mood is more somber as he eats dull machine-made noodles in what looks like a fast food chain.
The rice noodles are strikingly detailed in his memories, creating the most mouth-watering food that I’ve ever seen in an anime.
Xiaoming spends almost the entirety of episode narrating every single detail, which felt excessive when the gorgeous animation could have been left to speak for itself for much of the episode. The questions he poses to himself about change and growth during the narration, however, do help reinforce his inability to let go of the past. The Rice Noodles’ message about food, memories, and age stands tall enough on its own without the narration.
The two following episodes in Flavors of Youth are much longer and have stronger storytelling than the first. The second, A Little Fashion Show, is easily my favorite of the three. It follows Yi Lin, a star model who struggles to find passion for her job as a younger woman starts to steal the spotlight. Her well-developed story is far more rounded than the other two and utilizes the themes of youth and food in more subtle ways.
Food is not nearly as obvious an element in A Little Fashion Show as the first part since this episode takes on the “clothing” theme, but it still has a standout scene where food connects the Yi Lin with her younger sister, Lulu, and manager, Steve. Those two supporting characters steal the episode. Unlike the other two stories, the characters here are given enough time to develop alongside Yi Lin as they help her navigate her challenging career while it, in turn, tests their relationships.
Lulu represents the heart of everything that the model is fighting for. She is at times quiet and shy, but spunky and strong in other moments. The manager, Steve, is my personal favorite as he brings some necessary humor to the film that is lacking otherwise. He is charming and has the Yi Lin’s best interests at heart. He truly cares about her and isn’t the cliche deceptive manager.
The final episode of Flavors of Youth, Love in Shanghai, is as equally complex as A Little Fashion Show. It stars Li Mo, a recent graduate who spins back into memories of his youth after finding a forgotten cassette tape. In order to listen to it he has to leave his shiny modern apartment and return to his old childhood home. What follows is a powerful story that presents the harshness of regret.
Cookies, buildings, and youth connect him and two best friends, who, like himself, change with time. It is a tale of dealing with past regrets that is hard to watch at times. Unlike Xiaoming who focused so much on the past and his childhood, Love in Shanghai’s Li Mo is, even in the flashbacks to his youth, set on the future.
Early on in the third episode, he finds an ambition to strive towards. Without spoiling anything, this goal of his is sparked by the people around him, however, he handles it in all the wrong ways. Love in Shanghai evoked the most emotion from me because I found the protagonist infuriating. Rather than being a huge drawback for the story, Li Mo’s frustrating behavior is actually a testament to how well CoMix Wave executes his storyline. I believe Li Mo had good intentions in his ambitions, but along the way, he completely loses sight of what was the point of it all. This results in some surprisingly painful scenes as we see what his actions cause in the years leading up to the present day.
Love in Shanghai culminates in a finale that is both haunting and heart-wrenching. The acting, transitions, and angle of the shots work in total tandem. I found myself so emotional, and it was made better by the fact that I had come to dislike Li Mo so much.
While the three storylines of Flavors of Youth aren’t interconnected like Your Name, there is some beauty to be found in their standalone nature. Each episode has such distinct storytelling styles – thanks to their different directors – that it keeps things constantly changing and interesting. Their differences allow for an even wider appeal, as one episode might resonate with someone whereas another clicks with a different person.