Image: Netflix / Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories
Over the last decade, the Midnight Diner manga has gotten several live adaptions. One of those is available on Netflix in English, Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.
The setup is simple: a chef called The Master runs a diner in Shinjuku that only opens from midnight, and the show focuses on the stories and lives of his patrons. It's a beautiful series of self-contained stories, and it's almost criminal that there's only 10 episodes.
Midnight Diner was created by Yaro Abe, first coming to life in the Shinya Shokudō manga in 2006. A TV series appeared a few years later, and in 2015 Joji Matsuoka directed a film starring Kaoru Kobayashi as The Master.
The following year, Matsuoka and Kobayashi teamed up again under the behest of Netflix Japan. The principle and formula remained the same, with each episode focusing on one story and a particular plate of food.
The diner's appeal is The Master will make any dish his customers request, provided he has the ingredients. Because of that, most of the dishes tend to be Japanese staples - omelette rice, egg tofu that's available at any local convenience store, pork cutlets, and so forth.
That's actually part of the series' charm, too. Everyone has had an emotional connection to food at some stage in their lives, and the dishes in each episode help connect the characters, either as icebreakers, a means to find common ground, or a shared link from their pasts.
Much like the food, the stories' all have a comforting charm. One episode focuses on a gambler trying to juggle his lifestyle while taking custody of a child. The pilot showcases a late-night radio announcer and a taxi driver, of which the latter was a former star on a ninja squadron show the former idolised growing up.
Another showcases a Japanese physicist and a Korean hostess whose parents don't approve of the international divide; another focuses the fractured relationship between a master comedian and apprentice, after the apprentice becomes more popular.
I am now officially very hungry.
Each episode is incredibly human: people dealing with rejection, shame, love and trying to move on in their lives. Home cooks (not the Masterchef kind) should be able to recreate most of the dishes too; the show even breaks the wall at the end of each episode, offering a tidbit or pointer for the dish in question. (In the story with the Korean and Japanese physicist, The Master oversees the woman as she practises the dish, providing almost a step-by-step breakdown of its preparation.)
Ultimately, it's about finding the missing piece in our lives. That's extremely relatable despite the language barrier, and the fact that the film (and food!) is beautifully shot throughout adds to the charm.
It's not a show about food, even though the food brings everyone together. It's about the forgotten people of society - those working the midnight shifts, those in the hostess bars, those lost in love and life - finding their place, and finding each other. It's a sweet, heartfelt series. And if you find yourself longing for Japanese food immediately thereafter, the recipes can be found over at Just One Cookbook.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories is streaming on Australian Netflix now.