I’ve been watching “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” on Netflix and I’m enthralled. Shir Avinada encapsulates the premise:
Sometimes the best stories take place in the most unlikely places. This principle provides the foundation for “Midnight Diner,” the new Japanese language Netflix Original series centering around Meshiya, a small restaurant tucked away off the main streets of Tokyo, its proprietor known as Master (Kaoru Kobayashi, “The Great Passage”) and the patrons who find themselves there between midnight and 7 a.m. when the restaurant is open. And it’s during those hours that the most compelling stories are revealed about the show’s miscellaneous characters.The sympathetic Master has only pork miso soup and a few drinks on his menu, but will make anything his customers order as long as he has the ingredients. Like his menu, customers get more than what they see when they dine at Meshiya. Both regulars and newcomers alike converge at the small, almost hidden location under the pretense of a simple late-night meal. But Master serves up his meals with quiet comfort — exuding an aura that invites customers to share their stories with him and with us.
Greg Kennedy serves up (yeah, I had to do it) some background:
From humble origins on late-night television in 2009 in Japan, this sincere half-hour series grew into a sensation across Asia. […] The live-action drama is based on Yaro Abe’s graphic novelMidnight Diner, a bestselling manga that has sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide. It was the winner of the 55th annual Shogakukan Manga Award in 2010, and the 39th annual Japan Cartoonists Association Grand Award the same year.
Let me tell you about the episode I watched Friday evening. Here’s the Netflix summary: “Ep. 6: Sour Plum & Plum wine: Upon finishing the last of his late mother’s pickled plums, a man suddenly wonders what will become of his erotica after he passes away.” Just so.
But the episode doesn’t begin in the diner. It begins outside in the street. There’s a conversation between two people just sitting around and they comment on a man who comes stumbling along. He’s the subject of the episode, the owner of a small produce store whose mother died four years ago. We cut to inside the diner where the Master – that’s what they call him – is serving some regulars (just like Norm and Cliff from Cheers, except the regulars in this show include women). Our grocer enters, a bit distracted, and orders a shōchū and some pickled plums.
And that gets him to thinking about his mother, who also made pickled plums, but better than these. Alas, they’re all gone, his mother’s pickled plums. She’s been dead four years. (How many pickled plums had she laid up before she died? I’m missing something, I’m sure.)
Now we’re into it. Pickled plums, mother’s dead, lonely. Then diabetes, two weeks in the hospital, chats with a nurse. Back to the diner. Plums, mother, lonely.
Only now his mother’s haunting him. We see him get up from his futon and go to the door, where his mother’s trying to get him. She telling him to . . . It was quite specific; but I forget exactly. No matter.
Back to the diner. Mother’s haunting me. Somehow he gets to talking about his pornography collection. He’s a bachelor, he’s got needs, you understand, no? But there’s something in the house and his mother wants him to find it. It so happens that there’s a professional finder at the bar. He’s hired.
We’re in the grocer’s home, with the finder, the Master, the patrons. Looking through stuff. The grocer goes to his porn collection, calls male patrons over – a very rare item, smiles, women chuckle (I think).
And then they find it, carefully wrapped in, yes, brown paper. A cache of superb shunga, Japanese erotic prints. (Did I cop a glimpse of the fisherman's wife?) They were a gift to his mother before the wedding, so she wouldn’t be shocked and surprised on her wedding night, we’re told. OK, so the grocer’s private stash includes a very rare DVD. But his other’s erotic pictures...!
You see where this is going, don’t you? The pretty nurse from the hospital, the one who talked to the grocer? She shows up at the diner, inquires about his health.
In the midnight diner.