Directed by: Haoling Li, Yoshitaka Takeuch, Xiaoxing Yi
Cast: Taito Ban, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Matt Fowler, Dorothy Elias-Fahn
After devoting two films to the emotional agony of young love — specifically, an enrapturing story of how time changes people but not love — the tragic series continues with Haoling Li and Yoshitaka Takeuch’s directorial debut Flavors of Youth after Takeuch operated as chief 3D animation artist on Your Name and special effects artist on 5 Centimeters Per Second. But curiously, instead of focusing on the romance alone, the film recounts three different stories of youth set in different cities of china, similar to that of 5 Centimeters per Second.
In the first chapter, “The Rice Noodles,” (take a drink every time “rice noodles” is said in the film) we’re introduced to Xiao Ming, whose nostalgic retelling of eating rice noodles helps him come to terms with the death of his Grandma and who he’s yet to become. The noodles were an integral part of his everyday life: watching his school crush walk home from school, bonding with his grandma and what it means to be happy. But it’s only in the softly animated town he once called home where he can learn how the past informs our future, even in the smallest of ways. In Xiao’s case, it was rice noodles.
Where one of the strengths of the first chapter was reconciling the past and present, chapter two, “A Little Fashion Show,” grapples with the anxiety of the future. Two sisters, one a fashion model and the other an aspiring fashion designer, persist in the aftermath of their father’s death. Unfortunately, the pressure of performing well in competition under the fashion industry threatens not only their way of life but also their relationship. It’s a heartfelt depiction of youth in a world that forgets the old, and especially the dead. And while it’s borderline cliché in its attempt to subvert beauty, it always feels genuine in execution.
Around the one-hour mark, once the healing from previous stories has finished, Flavors of Youth closes with a finale akin to the best moments of 5 Centimeters Per Second. Chapter Three, “Love in Shanghai,” perhaps the best due to the familiarity with the tragic romance, recounts the childhood of a young architect whose long-lost love has slipped away through time. The soft, nostalgic animation turns glossy and sharp, rendering the past as a forgotten corner of the mind that slowly reveals itself the more young Xiao explores his feelings. What’s found is the kind of love that admittedly only works in the movies, but it still hits just as hard. Xiao, whether he rekindles his past relationship, demonstrates the open heart of not only its producer, CoMix Wave Films, but also the directors who are hopefully on their way to making something even better.