The adverts were selling this as from the studio behind "your name", but that's only a quarter-truth. It's a collaboration between Haoliners (Chinese) and CoMix Wave Films (Japanese studio behind "your name") with no involvement from Makoto Shinkai, although admittedly the chief director (Haoling Li) is a massive Makoto Shinkai fan who wanted to make “5 Centimeters Per Second, but in China”.
Personally, I found it barely watchable.
It's an anthology film, with each segment finding its own way of being either pointless or frustrating. However it's slow, thoughtful and has interesting themes.
1. THE RICE NOODLES (17 minutes)
It's about food. The main character (Xiao Ming) looks back over the different places where he's eaten a particular rice noodle dish. We meet his granny and various different cafes, each of which he was convinced would last forever. (He's always wrong, but he's not the only person to talk garbage. "If you love eating, you'll be blessed with delicious food!" says Granny, despite being old enough to have seen the famine during Mao's Cultural Revolution.)
Xiao Ming tells us recipes and talks like a restaurant reviewer. "No words could describe how I loved this moment." What he never does is, well, anything at all. He just watches. This segment is not a story. It doesn't have a protagonist. It's just a bunch of stuff that happened, related in order.
Life moves on. Xiao Ming liked a girl, but never did anything and she moved away. Well, golly gosh.
There's also a scene where Xiao Ming learns that his grandmother is dying. He travels back from Beijing to his home town in Hunan Province, at last reaching the family home and going inside. He goes to the bedside and holds his granny's hand. They say one line each, then she dies with implausibly perfect dramatic timing. You might wet yourself laughing.
2. A LITTLE FASHION SHOW (26 minutes)
Yi Lin is a fashion model who's looking after her younger sister, Lulu. Their parents are dead.
This segment is better than the last one, because it has content. I was more engaged in it. Unfortunately, the story is about why Yi Lin's an idiot. She's sympathetic and well-meaning, but she's late to everything, insensitive towards Lulu (despite good intentions), gets upset about losing an audition to a younger girl (as if that's never happened before in the modelling world), has bad taste in men, has to be carried home drunk when Lulu's been waiting at home for hours with a birthday feast she's made, gets snappy, destroys her own health, won't listen to advice and is eventually such a wreck that she collapses on the runway in mid-show.
On the upside, though, she's also self-hating! She doesn't like being tall, is kind of miserable and thinks her only plus point is her body.
You'll have a lot of sympathy for Yi Lin, her position and everything she has to do to preserve her looks, but this is still the story of someone with an massively glamorous and lavishly paid job who has no enemies, no bad luck and is being rewarded far beyond her worth, abilities and intelligence. Nothing bad happens to her unless she brought it upon herself by being an idiot.
This segment has a nice ending, but good grief.
3. LOVE IN SHANGHAI (30 minutes)
Li Mo loves Xiao Yu, but he's too proud to talk to her about important things. She's going to apply for a school for really clever people, but he's an idiot! (That goes without saying, admittedly, but his school grades also happen to be bad.) Naturally he goes all cold and hostile, while secretly killing himself studying to try to get into the same school.
Misunderstandings ensue, of course. These could have been trivially avoided if Li Mo hadn't been too proud and self-obsessed to think about someone else's point of view. He's also too rude to bother listening to messages.
This segment has quite a nice plot device in the old cassette tapes that our heroes swap. It's also quite interesting in how it portrays Chinese modernisation and the inescapable passing of time, e.g. the characters' home town getting demolished bit by bit as urban Shanghai eats it. Everyone reacts to this in their own ways. However Li Mo has been such a twat that I was annoyed when his correct and satisfying tragedy was destroyed by a last-minute happy ending. Why? Let him suffer. That reunion is unearned and undeserved.
I should mention that some reviewers have liked this film. It's artistic and sincere. It's even warm and optimistic in its portrayal of self-destructive uselessness and disintegration. Personally, though, I found watching it a chore.