[J-drama Review] Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

I stumbled across yet another Netflix gem in the form of Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, a continuation of a popular Japanese live action series with three earlier seasons and two movies. I had actually seen a bit of the first season, Shinya Shokudo, several years ago with FoxyLadyAyame, but I cannot recall if we ever finished it. This realization didn’t hit me until I started watching Tokyo Stories and many of the setting and character details felt familiar. You do not actually need to watch any of the prequels to appreciate the 4th-season Netflix original, as the stories are episodic in nature. You can even watch them out of order if you like, though I do think the last episode perfectly wraps up the sentiment of the show and the bar where everyone intersects.

The 10-episode series begins each of its stories with a mood-setting introduction by Meshiya’s owner. The diner does exactly what the title entails: it opens at midnight and closes at seven in the morning. People stop by after work, or wherever else their day takes them, for a drink and a humble meal. Other than the odd business hours, another unique trait of the diner is that customers can request any dish from the owner as long as he has the ingredients to make it. Some people go to relax in solitude, they can eat and drink without talking to anyone. Others are regular visitors who chat with the owner and patrons like they’re all old friends.

While the setting is a restaurant and the episodes each feature a specific type of dish (with snippets at the end of each episode providing tips on cooking), the food is not the focus of the show; it merely serves as the plate on which human drama stars. We meet people from all walks of life: a former action movie star turned taxi cab driver, a legendary gambler now facing life as a single parent, a young woman who knits for her chronic crushes, and even an old comedian jealous of the success of a former apprentice. One of my favorite episodes takes on a comical horror tone with a man who faces nightly the ghost of his mother. He fears one, the outcome of his own death when his stash of porn videos is discovered, and two, the reason for his mother’s visits. Does she regret not finishing her homemade plum wine? Does she have her own stash of unspeakable?

The sheer variety of people and experiences results in a wonderful mix of viewpoints that encourages the viewer to listen first and leave all judgement at the door. I very much hope you will try this show if given the opportunity, as well as check out its prequels. As for me, I’ve found another Japanese food series on Netflix (Gourmet Samurai) with a completely different attitude, and hope to share my thoughts on it with you all soon. Until then, enjoy Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, review what you watched, and eat well!

Rating: 2 dango

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