Mar 31, 2017

[TV] Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

I can't believe that I had forgotten to write a review for Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories despite how much Tobie and I had enjoyed every minute of the show. Checking my tweets, we had watched the show towards the end of last year and boo on me for not writing about it. I guess it just became one of those entertainment experiences that we just celebrated so much with friends in person that the written review stuff just felt inessential or something.

But really, this is a great show and I'm glad that Netflix isn't limiting itself to releasing American productions as part of its library of original titles. Tie-up releasing deals that made it possible to use Netflix as a platform to share shows like Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.

True fact: I had initially assumed this show to be some sort of food documentary given how much we had also enjoyed the Netflix documentary series Chef's Table. I never seriously looked into the show prior and so we dove in sort of blind. And it was just such an amazing experience that we finished the entire season run not long after that.

Synopsis: Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories is an anthology TV series produced by Hitoshi Endô and Kaata Sakamoto for Netflix. The series was based on the Japanese manga Shinya Shokudō.

Somewhere in Tokyo is a small diner which can probably seat 10 people at best and only opens at midnight and stays open until the wee hours of the morning. The chef, known as the Master (Kaoru Kobayashi) will prepare just about anything you ask for given he has the ingredients. But he is not the point of the story - instead its his customers that provide the focus of the series as a whole.

Each episode is named after a dish that becomes the sort of focus for the episode. But each episode focuses more on the character or characters who ordered the dish or talked about it or whatever. That's just a minor detail that ties things together. And so more than just a show that could have been a bunch of people talking around a diner table about their lives, we are also treated to see the actual stories as they happened outside this quaint little diner.

And the Master doesn't even talk most of the time.

What I Liked: I can't imagine how people can not like the show as there is an almost universal quality to the sort of stories told here. At its core, the show is a human interest piece where even the most mundane things are celebrated and treated with respect and sometimes wonder through the stories of these people. Each episode stands on its own apart from maybe the intervention of the Master to cook  the meals or provide a little tidbit of advice. Or at least that's how things are on the surface.

One could be content with just going in this direction with the individual stories an celebrating each story on its own. But over the course of the season we also see a sort of build-up of characters as some faces seem to be regular guests at the diner while others who were once just people in the background later get their own stories told within the show. It's an elegant little dance that remains highly character-focused and yet also works together as a greater whole.

What Could Have Been Better: As with any anthology whether as a short story collection or a TV show like this, you won't like each story equally. That is not necessarily a sign of bad writing but more about how each episode and each story will resonate with some people and not others.

But there's not much else I can say about this show. I love it too much. Maybe it's not everyone's thing since it is still a Japanese series that involves reading subtitles. I know some people who dislike that as well, but it's still awesome.

TL;DR: I never really know how to "sell" Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories to people apart from saying that it's a beautiful series that manages to tell personal stories in a compelling way. It's elegant in its simplicity and it's poetic in its narrative and on all the whole it is a show you must watch. Thus the series gets a full 5 simple yet pretty intriguing dishes out of a possible 5.


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