Dorama review: Midnight Diner

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

This Japanese TV show exists in many versions – largely with the same actors – but I am here referring to the Netflix series Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (which is arguably season 4 of the show originally aired on MBS). Tim and I love this show so much.

It’s a simple concept: at a late-night diner (open from midnight until 7 a.m.) in Shinjuku, the chef-owner cooks whatever dish his guests request. The camera lingers on the cooking, but this is a drama about people. Each episode takes as its subject one of the regular customers. In this way, the episodes are largely separate stories.

Midnight Diner has a wonderful atmosphere – warm, cosy, but within the confines of reality. The acoustic background music adds to the sensation of being in a friendly backstreet bar where there is always gentle hubbub and subdued lighting.

I love the photography of the city – both the opening shot following a Tokyo taxi down the main streets of Shinjuku, and the bulk of the action on the quiet largely traffic-free back alleys. Having been there I can easily believe the midnight diner exists just a few metres from the overlit streets around Shinjuku’s Godzilla Road.

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

The chef owner (played by Kaoru Kobayashi) is referred to by everyone as “Master” and treads a fine line between polite indifference to his customers and revealing that he hears everything they say. He’s quiet and easygoing – he takes some teasing and many comments about his food – but he also sometimes plays the role of wise elder like a bartender might in a British or American show.

This show is not action-packed and the vignette style means that some storylines are mere snapshots in time, or segments of a larger story, while others feel rushed. But they all have a certain feel-good factor – even those that don’t necessarily have a happy ending are rooted in good intentions.

We dearly want to spend more time with Master and his regulars and are frustrated that Netflix only briefly hosted the original three seasons of the TV show before making its own season. The film spin-off (with the same cast) is available as a Blu-ray but only at a high price. I guess we could watch the Korean remake on Viki but it doesn’t have as positive reviews.