Producer Noritaka Kawaguchi whose name is attached to such projects like Garden of Words, Your Name, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices brings you an anime film about life in China. It might seem odd at first a Japanese producer making this movie until you remember Japan isn’t new to outsourcing their animation to China. In this case specifically it’s a co-production between Chinese animation company Haoliners Animation League, and CoMix Wave Film from Japan. The later of which is best know for animating Your Name, and several of Makoto Shinkai other works. Under the helm of three directors Flavors of Youth takes a gamble on it talents ability that doesn’t payoff. On a technical level it shows China is capable of matching the visuals of Japan best animated movies, but other than that this anothology has nothing else to show for it.
Sunny Breakfast (Hidamari no Choushoku)
The first anthology film is also the weakest without question. This short film marks the debut of internet-based filmmaker Yi Xiaoxing, and his inexperience shows. This short movie is about Xiaomin reminiscing about his youth, but mostly monologuing poetically about his love of noodles like its the only reason life is worth living. He expresses his excessive love for noodles to a point it becomes hilarious. Credit to Crispin Freeman who managed to properly portray his character despite the dialogue he was given to work with.
Here’s a few of those lines:
“Your tongue go numb. Little by little it forgets the sensation of its home town. That flavor I lost. Now seems to haunt me.”
“The mushroom were always strong, and fresh. The kukurage with its firm texture. Each added their own unique layer to the thick broth that crater them. Creating a flavor that made my heart soar.”
“The eggs soft, and fluffy that made the noodles richer as they slid down your throat. That light amber soup, that brought out the flavor of every ingredient.”
Why this short movie is the worst in this anthology is that it tries too hard to be dramatic in a short amount of time, and pretty badly while I’m at it. It tries to pull at the heart strings by having Xiaomin’s grandmother die towards the end. Something that could have worked if Xiaomin monologue about spending time with his grandma instead of describing how good his noodle tasted, or how inferior noodles now taste compare to when he was a child.
Going as far as describing the texture, and the warmth it gives him as a child versus the cold, and heartless taste when he’s an adult. It’s difficult to take Xiaomin seriously about what he lost in his youth, and having to move on from it when more time is spend on him passionately describing what he eats than showing what he experienced.
This story also suffers the most the difference in culture. Apparently in China food is a big deal since it’s the basis for family bonding, and socializing. Although, the short film itself failed to establish this clearly to the viewer so its failure is it own undoing assuming everyone knows about the importance of food in Chinese culture.
Sunny Breakfast gets a 2 out of 10. Only positive is that it’s unintentionally funny hearing the dialogue in the English dub, and is the shortest in the anthology. The animation is lovely to look at.
A Small Fashion Show (Chiisana Fashion Show)
This one is a bit better, but suffers from feeling shoehorn in its storytelling, and a forced happy ending. It’s about a woman who is a fashion model who feels she’s getting replace by younger models. Oh, there’s also a storyline about finding yourself, and being a family. The simplistic story is at odds with itself. On one hand it displays the toll the modeling career as taken on her health, and how badly it treats her since the modeling business will quickly forget about her. Then on the other hand there’s family drama she faces with a sister she hardly spend time with, and the most meaningful conversation they is arguing with each other. These conflicts are quickly resolve by the main character simply believing in herself which somehow fixes everything.
Unlike the first film, you’ll see the main character interact with the people around her instead of being told what’s happening. It struggles to develop characters since their conflicts is a lot more layered than it can explore in its run time. The rival model that appears in the story amounts to nothing more a tool to progress the story. Add on top of the fact the rival malicious intent isn’t even explained, nor is that conflict properly resolved. Another thing I find issue in this film is whatever commentary it wanted to have about the fashion industry is clumsily handled. There is a scene where the model has to soak in the world moving on quickly from her when looking at a billboard with a younger model. The idea behind this scene is good, but given the force happy ending it makes this scene, and other feel redundant.
One thing that is consistent among these short movies is they are all pretty to look to look at. The voice acting in this short film is the best since the actors have a lot more to work with, and the progression of events is more natural so the voice actors won’t overact. This film was directed by directed by CoMiX Wave 3DCG chief Yoshitaka Takeuchi whose lack of experience also shows. On the animation front he knows what he’s doing, but storytelling he has no clue what he’s doing.
A Small Fashion Show gets a 3 out 10. In wanting a happy ending it rushes its conflict ending up shallow in its attempt to give its two cent on the fashion industry, and the importance of family.
Shanghai Love (Shanghai Koi)
The best short film in the anthology, though not by much. It’s biggest strength is feeling like a condense Makoto Shinkai film. You’ll get the lovely animation, the tragic romance story, and you’ll sadly get teenagers acting very stupid. Unlike the previous films, this one is less in your face about it message. Sorta, it combines the failed attempt at tear jerking of Sunny Breakfast with the under written characters of A Small Fashion Show. It also contains the dumbest characters in this anthology when you look at the finer details.
The main character of this story is Li Mo (not a vehicle who wished to be a real boy as far as I know) an angry high school guy who has crush on Xiao Yu, a girl who is implied to be his childhood friend. So the girl’s parent want her to apply to a prestige high school, and the boy wants to go to said prestige high school since he likes her a lot. That’s seems stupid, but pretty harmless until you realize the Li Mo doesn’t want Xiao Yu to know he’s applying to the same school. On top of that, he also says to the one friend he tells about this plan that he’ll denounce their friendship if he tells Xiao Yu about the plan. This contrived conflict makes it impossible to sympathize with any of its characters. All Li Mo has to do is tell Xiao Yu he’s planning on going to the same school as she is, and problem solve, and of course that doesn’t happen.
None of the characters are fleshed out to care about them. Xiao Yu suffers the most from this since she’s meant to be Li Mo love interest, and the only way the film develops her is by mentioning she got physically abused by her parents. It just feels like a cheap manipulative ploy than it does a characteristic. As Li Mo there’s not much to like either. The writing didn’t know how to depicts friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time so it simply has Li Mo acting like a jerk to her for no reason. He’s a victim of the dumb writing since he, and Xaio Yu communicate through messages recorded on a cassette tape. The movie uses the excuse he’s studying so he won’t listen to a certain tape resulting in his heartache, though again, he did bring this on himself.
Li Mo character arc is somewhat competently handle. Exploring a character who lives with regrets is decently explored. Giving you a good idea how much regret he feels about this certain event in his past. Same with it touching on parents being hard in pushing their kids towards a good education. It’s only mentioned without delving into it theme, but doesn’t get drown out by all the melodrama on screen. Another one of its positive is being written in a way where it tries to make you forget about the logical, and be caught in the moment of the story. It sometimes succeed in that until logic rolls in its head.
We now come to the ending that negates the whole experience of the story, and sweeps it under the rug. If it wanted to get across the whole point Li Mo lost out on a experience of his life because of his action it would have hit home a lot more with a sad ending. The happy ending is fine, but with the direction it was heading it undermines what came before it.
This short film is visually the most outstanding with its detail background of a populated China from simple things like oncoming traffic to the urban streets of Shanghai. Everything move very smoothly without much of the 3D standing out in the movie in general. The music here is okay. It’s melodramatic for sure, but actually noticeable where in the previous short films the music wasn’t a presence. The one downside to this short film is Ross Butler performance as Li Mo. He doesn’t deliver any of his dialogue with any emotion, and simply sounds bore about everything he talks about.
Shanghai Love is directed by Li Haoling who unlike the previous two director actually has some experience under his belt. While he still has room for improvement he shows promise in being able to replicate the spirit of a Makoto Shinkai movie through his own style. Out of all the directors who worked on this, Li Haoling easily shows the most promise.
Shanghai Love gets a 6 out of 10. The characters are pretty stupid, but it manages to capture the feel of a Shinkai movie pretty well. It’s the best simply because it’s direction is clear, and direct in its simple ambitions.
There’s a post credit scene, though it doesn’t help much as the characters basically say they’ll move forward. A good message for certain, but not delivered in the way intended. It assumes anyone will become lost in its visuals to overlook the haphazard writing. If there was an overarching theme it gets lost underneath the one dimensional characters, the forced happy endings, and a general lack of proper storytelling from two of the directors involved. It wants to pull at the heartstrings, but ironically feels artificial, and soulless like the very thing it tried, and failed to criticize.
Rating: 3/10 (10/30 all short films added together)