There comes a point in most evenings where my hands are too stiff to play games, or when my brain is a bit too far along the path to sleep for me to make snap decisions. It’s usually around this time that I swap from games to YouTube to watch cooking videos or something similar. I saw the trailers for Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories and felt that might be the perfect nightcap for a few nights. I was right, but now I’m curious to see everything set in this world.
The thing is, the Netflix series is actually part of a larger collection of movies, both theatrical releases and made-for-television, and a televisions series as well. All of them star Kaoru Kobayashi as the diner owner, known simply as Master to his patrons. This series was adapted from a manga written by Yaro Abe. I only recently learned all of this, and now I want very much to locate more of these stories because they’re so vivid and charming.
The premise of the series is simple enough. The Master runs a diner in Shinjuku from Midnight to 7 AM. Though The Master has a tiny menu, he has a policy of cooking whatever his patron request, provided he has the ingredients. Each episode features a different patron who requests a specific dish, which usually has some emotional significance to them. From that starting point, each episode blossoms and develops in ways that often defied my expectations.
Frequently, a couple might be introduced or reunited, and you might think “Ah-ha, so they’ll get together by the end.” But that rarely happens, and what I love about Midnight Diner is how it subverts expectations like that while still providing closure. Indeed, there are even episodes that end in calamity, and yet they’re still satisfying because that’s where the story needed to go, not where I wanted it to end up.
I want so much to cite specific examples, but it’s all spoilers, and in a series this short and sweet, I’d much rather send you into it with little more than vague pointers. Sure, now you know not to expect the obvious conclusion, but when each story reaches its critical points, you’ll be as surprised and hopefully as delighted as I was.
I guess I can mention that in addition to these special guest patrons, there are a host of diner regulars who interact with the guest and each other. These exchanges might be tense arguments or playful banter, but they’re always a highlight of each episode. Some of the debates among the regular patrons are the moment that had me laughing the most.
I give Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories 5 enthusiastic stars, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun show about normal people with normal problems.