Growing up is not always easy. It can be a grueling process that involves frustration, fear, and regret over things lost.
These emotions are not foreign to college students. The journey from childhood to young adulthood, while providing a different experience for every individual, has undoubtedly taught us that life is not always easy. Despite this, there is always hope that tomorrow will be brighter than the past.
The 2018 Netflix Original “Flavors of Youth,” released by the studio that created the well-known 2016 animated film “Your Name,” focuses on this “hope” for a brighter future despite past and current hardships.
The film is an anthology with three segments, each containing a different story that follows one of the film’s three main characters as they go about their lives in different cities in China.
Each segment highlights fears and lessons that many may learn (often the hard way) as they go about life’s daily endeavors. While the stories presented may not be applicable to every person, the subject matter and common emotions portrayed and discussed in the film are concepts that everyone has been exposed to, thus making the viewing experience a memorable (and perhaps bittersweet) one.
Note: The following contains some spoilers for the film. If you wish to watch it before reading this article, “Flavors of Youth” is available for viewing on Netflix.
“The Rice Noodles” - Food, lost identity and death
The first part of “Flavors of Youth” focuses upon the melancholic Xiao Ming, a young man who has lost his sense of identity.
His story begins with a “rare downpour in Beijing,” a dreary display of urban life. In his opening monologue, Xiao Ming criticizes the “harsh city” and its ability to make people “expressionless.” He admits that he himself has become expressionless: “Numbed, we lose the taste of home.”
Xiao Ming reflects upon his childhood memories, seeking respite. He remembers San Xian noodles, a dish that he ate every morning with his grandmother when he lived in Hunan, a province in southern China. As Xiao Ming grew and the village and its people changed, the quality of the San Xian noodles worsened, as did the quality of Xiao Ming’s life. The now freeze-dried clumps of flour they used in Beijing did not ignite the same feeling the homemade San Xian noodles in Hunan did.
With the warmth of his beloved dish gone, he, in a way, lost himself.
The loss of something that reminds one of home can leave one feeling misplaced. For college students, especially those from out-of-state, being away from their homes and families can cause a sense of dread. A tree needs roots to grow; if someone loses a sense of where they came from, their growth may be hindered due to a loss of self. This existential crisis - “Who am I, and where do I come from?” - is something everyone will experience at least once as they continue toward adulthood.
Xiao Ming is called back to Hunan to say goodbye to his ailing grandmother, who dies after exchanging words with him one last time.
With the death of his grandmother, Xiao Ming accepts that the days that left once will never come back. While the San Xian noodles that are served today are not the same as the dish served in his childhood, the lingering warmth of the past urges a sense of change that will change him from being lost to finding a place to belong again.
Circumstances in life may change, and may often leave us lost and confused. As J.R.R. Tolkien once penned, “Not all those who wander are lost;” while change can be devastating at first, it could also bring an opportunity to mature and heal overtime.
“A Little Fashion Show” - The fear of being replaced
The second segment of the anime anthology brings the viewer into the world of fashion as the beautiful Yi Lin faces with her fear of losing her place as one of China’s most popular fashion models.
As one of the older characters in the film, she knows that life is constantly changing and her career as a model will end - but she still wants to shine. Her reason for this is her little sister, Lulu, an aspiring fashion designer. After losing their parents at a young age, Yi Lin feels obligated to take care of Lulu, and thus wishes to remain successful so she can support them both.
Yi Lin’s desire to take care of her younger sister reflects the responsibilities many young adults face when it comes to maintaining a job or career, especially if they are supporting someone other than themselves. Financial struggle is an issue many may experience (especially with college tuition nowadays), so it is not a surprise that when success comes, so does happiness - and lots of green.
Yi Lin’s stability in the fashion world becomes shaky when Shui Jing, a younger model, begins to attract the attention of the public. In attempt to maintain her place at the top, Yi Lin attempts to look “youthful” by starving herself and exercising frequently to the point of collapsing.
This ultimately forces Yi Lin to take a break from the fashion world, where she experiences an existential crisis. Yi Lin is troubled that the world is moving on without her, and she loses hope in returning to her modelling career. Thanks to Lulu and Yi Lin’s manager Steve, who throw Yi Lin a secret fashion show in which Yi Lin is the main model, Yi Lan realizes that modeling is important to her and she will not let it go, regardless of the hardships she faces. She returns to modeling, will Lulu as her fashion designer.
Yi Lin’s story echoes a common worry about losing one’s place in their career or situation due to changes in trends or new people. In a changing world, many may feel the need to push against the tide in a frantic attempt to keep things the same. Like Xiao Ming, change can be difficult to deal with; however, while one cannot always control what happens, they have control over how they approach and deal with unwanted or unexpected changes in life.
“Love in Shanghai” - A painful first love
The final segment, “Love in Shanghai,” highlights the jaded Li Mo as he copes with the loss of a first love, and a chance of redemption.
The story begins in Shikumen, Shanghai in the fall of 2008. Li Mo has just moved into a new apartment after a falling out with his parents. His childhood friend, Pan, is helping him move boxes into the new space. While looking through his boxes, Li Mo comes across an old tape he did not remember packing. After wiping off the dust from the cover, he remembers it was the tape he and his other childhood friend and first love, Xian Yu, had used to trade with each other as a means to have conversations.
Pan reveals that Xian Yu had asked him to give the tape to Li Mo, as Li Mo was too immersed in studying for an entrance exam. Pan had given the tape to Li Mo’s mother, who slipped the tape into the box, where is stayed without Li Mo’s knowledge. Stricken with shock, Li Mo leaves the apartment and runs to his grandmother’s house, also in Shikumen, to find a tape player so he can listen to the voice of his first love for the first time in years.
The story shifts to Li Mo’s memories with Pan and Xian Yu as children in Shikumen. Li Mo and Xian Yu’s affections for each other were never a secret, though the two were both too embarrassed to say anything. When Xian Yu hurts her ankle while walking home from Lo Mi’s house, Li Mo carries Xian Yu to her home.
Due to her leg, Xian Yu is unable to attend class, and asks Li Mo to record the lecture for her. That is how their habit of passing the tape back and forth as a means to hold more intimate conversations.
Xian Yu reveals that she is applying for Yangpu University Affiliate High School, one of the most well-renowned high schools. Devastated at the thought of losing Xian Yu, Li Mo decides to apply there to, despite his low grades. To hide this, Li Mo lies to Xian Yu, saying that he plans to attend a school closer to their neighborhood.
Li Mo finds out that he gets accepted to Yangpu, but Xian Yu did not. Li Mo decides to go to Yangpu, leaving Xian Yu behind in Shikumen. His relationship with Xian Yu is left rocky. He continues to hide the fact he applied to Yangpu because of her, hiding his true feelings.
Fast-forwarding to the present, Li Mo finally hears Xian Yu’s final words to him on the tape. She tells him that she does not want to live with regrets, just like Li Mo, and reveals that she didn’t want to go to Yangpu because she didn’t want to be without him. Li Mo mourns for Xian Yu, and vows that if he ever meets her again, he still wants to be with her.
Li Mo’s story expresses the importance of living without regrets, and not hiding information or feelings. Life can be a waiting game, but if we wait a second too long, opportunities will be missed. It also displays the importance of maturity, and how it can often come in the from of growing pains.
As college students, it is vital that, in order to not live with regrets, to set out for all we plan to do, whether it be in terms of academics, romance, or career. In the end, as cliche as it sounds, it is better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all.
What’s your flavor?
“Flavors of Youth” is an anime anthology that highlights life’s growing pains. Each segment of the film shines light on different perspectives and how each character reacts to change and their development as a result. College students, especially those who enjoyed “Your Name” and similar animated films, may also like this movie due to its art style and official soundtrack.
While an enjoyable film, some may be turned off by how it portrays its themes. “Flavors of Youth” tends to be serious in its mood and tone, so for those who prefer a bit more action or fantasy in their animated films, this anthology may not be for you.
“Flavors of Youth” is available for viewing on Netflix.
Rating: 4 ½ torches