Meshi 飯 means food in Japanese. More literally, rice. However the words rice and food are almost interchangeable in meaning in Japan. Meshiya 飯屋 means food shop, or diner. Midnight Diner, is a Japanese tv show available on Netflix in Australia. The title in Japanese is Shinya Shokudo 深夜食堂. The show is about food. Sort of. The Master, who is the one who cooks the food, is aptly named. Both he and his food are a means of exploring personal relationships, memories and difficult, uncomfortable situations. Midnight Diner is one of my favourite tv shows. Each episode is named for a dish Master prepares and it the essence on which the episode is built.
The first three seasons are named, simply, Midnight Diner. The fourth and fifth seasons are named Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. Netflix produced the Tokyo Stories episodes. As a result, the later seasons were available in Australia before the earlier seasons. The later seasons are, in my opinion, more poignant and the characters more developed. Nearly every one of the 20 episodes in these two seasons made me cry (every time I have watched them). The earlier seasons are a little more flippant, less melancholic and not as well translated.
The opening sequence follows a Tokyo taxi as it drives under the train bridge and into the bright neon lights of Shinjuku. The music, by Zeigo, brings a tear to my eye before the show has begun. The camera pans along the street, instantly recognisable to anyone who has spent time in Shinjuku. The yearning sense of nostalgia it engenders is one of the reasons I love watching.
We then witness “Master” going through the routine of opening his diner. Meshiya opens from midnight until seven in the morning. Master is preparing food and hanging his noren (curtain). He explains his menu is limited, but that his policy is to make his customers whatever they ask for. Provided he has the ingredients.
The New Yorker describes Midnight Diner as finding “whimsy in the mundane”. We are led mindfully along, following a meandering tale, unhurried and unremarkable, yet completely engaging. The characters are charming in their ordinariness. They are relatable and they are fallible.
The Master remains, throughout the series, somewhat aloof and a little unattainable. He never speaks for the sake of speaking. Master is measured in all his interactions. He is like the coolest kid in school, who no-one ever truly understands. However, Master’s magnetic personality draws people to him and he has a gentle hospitality about him. I find Master mysterious. He is played brilliantly by Kaoru Kobayashi.
Some of my favourite characters are: Kosozu, a gay, cross-dressing man, who runs a bar. Ryu, a Yakuza boss always dressed in black and wearing sunglasses. Ryu has a wonderfully interesting relationship with Kosozu. The Ochazuke Sisters, Miki, Rumi and Kana. Three office workers, named by the locals for the dish they all enjoy eating. They love to gossip and agree with each other, loudly, in unison. There are strippers, detectives, professionals, salary men and porn stars. The characters create a rich story that is compelling and the 23 minute episodes always leave me wanting more.
In conclusion, if you haven’t watched this series, I highly recommend doing so. In addition, you can read Super Sake Boy’s tale of our adventure, Looking for the Master, set in the back streets of Shinjuku. Finally,here is a link to Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories on Netflix.