The tripartite anthology “Shikioriori”, is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and recent Chinese history, in particular that of China’s rapid economic development during the 1990s, so it pains me to read so many reviews that seem to exhibit no awareness and no understanding of the cultural context and demographic to which this film targets.
For non-Chinese people, or those who have not grown up in Chinese-influenced societies like much of South East Asia, you may not know that food is widely recognised as the most important part of Chinese culture. That Chinese people often greet each other with “Have you eaten” and that Chinese parents will express their love for their children not with “I love you” but “Have you eaten/there is food” is merely one of the many culturally ingrained aspects of Chinese culture where food is often the basis for family bonding and socialising.
In “Sunny Breakfast”, Xiaomin contemplates the ephemerality of people and things in life, with his most cherished experiences relating back to his favourite noodles. The whole vignette takes the form of Xiaomin’s inner thoughts and soliloquising as we follow his life’s journeys as we observe snippets of the memories he looks back to, as he feels his life is nothing more than a tasteless existence, that no longer has the “flavour of his youth” about which he reminisces and from which he begins to learn.
The extended metaphor and the experiences he goes through are very much those that most ordinary Chinese people that live in cities post the late 1980s when Deng Xiaoping begun the process of transformation Shanghai to the megacity it is today. For a short story, “Sunny Breakfast” does well in encapsulating the experiences many young Chinese adults will have gone through and the thought processes they felt. In the whirlwind of time, it is easy to forget the impermanence of that which one grows up with and just that alone is sufficient material for a short story like the first of Shikioriori’s to explore.
A Little Fashion Show
This is the most straightforward and least attached to Chinese culture of the three and may be more accessible emotionally and storywise to MAL’s Western base. It is a short story about cherishing those close to you and how family, as well as recognising the bilateral nature of such relationships. Perhaps the weakest of the three, its simplicity nonetheless means that its narrative is clear even if the experience of viewing it feels a bit rushed as the plot proceeds from one to the next, with little time for the nuanced introspection and characterisation we had of Xiaomin in the previous film.
I consider this to have been the weakest entry as its appeal to pathos is not particularly convincing and could have benefitted from more introspection of the sisters rather creating an antagonist, whose purpose had little value beyond advancing the plot whose message could have been achieved without so I felt it to be more shallow than the others. Luckily, being in the middle saves “Shikioriori” from giving a bad first impression or a disappointing finale.
Even though it’s a homage to Byousoku 5 Centimeter, I think it’s more of an indictment of MAL’s demographic that this film is being likened to all of Shinkai’s other works when really it shares very little with any of his works.
“Shanghai Love” is more about Shanghai and Chinese culture than it is really about love. The story surrounds 3 friends who through various circumstances end up on different life paths that lead to our protagonist to ponder on his present and future, sparked by a reminder of the past.
What I found impressive in this story was the way Chinese familial structure, relationships, and familial expectations are all accurately woven in the context of 1990s Shanghai which faced rapid modernisation, gentrification as well as technological development – themes that were all deftly used as metaphors in this romantic tale.
It is the longest of the three but aptly works as a conclusion to this anthology. Whereas the first focused heavily on one’s past, the second on the present, this final film goes one step further using its additonal time to encompass the future and the film’s ending culminates into an emotionally rewarding experience that feels like chicken soup for the soul.
I think for a lot of mainland Chinese millenials in their twenties, there is something even greater to pontificate upon and extract from Shikioriori, a film that I personally thoroughly enjoyed, and captured me in its reminiscent and phantasmagorical atmosphere.