Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Japanese TV sensation Midnight Diner serves up a taste of hope in an uncaring world

Feeling lost in life? You'll find what your heart and your belly hunger for with a visit to the tiny noodle counter of Midnight Diner - Tokyo Stories.
Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories. Courtesy Shogakukan Production
Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories. Courtesy Shogakukan Production

In the wee hours of the Tokyo night, in a quiet corner beyond the neon-lit bustle of the main roads and skyscrapers, you might stumble through the door of Meshiya.

It is a cosy little restaurant with a counter and a few seats, open only from 12am to 7am, where its wise proprietor – known simply as the Master – dishes up comfort to the city’s lost souls.

Through intimate, softly lit ­conversations about life, careers, children, debt, honour and more with his sleepless patrons, the Master touches lives and changes destinies, even as his delicious food gives the patrons strength and courage to carry on.

From humble origins on late-night television in 2009 in Japan, this sincere half-hour series grew into a sensation across Asia. Now the rest of the world can get a taste of the phenomenon as Netflix ­presents Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories, with 10 new episodes available from Friday, October 21.

The live-action drama is based on Yaro Abe’s graphic novel ­Midnight 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.

Why is it so special? Even with English subtitles, the answer will be obvious to anyone peeking through this window into ­Japanese culture. One of the keys is the powerful bond that the ­Master forges between himself, his food and his patrons.

In a harried world where the pace of modern living can leave some behind, in need of solace and a quiet place to feel at home, Midnight Diner compassionately fills the void in their bellies and souls.

Kaoru Kobayashi, who stars as the Master, speaks with a voice that soothes and acts with a ­gentle manner that earns trust and ­respect from all. At the age of 65, the actor has become a Japanese icon.

One of the higher-profile guest stars in this debut Netflix season will be Korean actress Go Ah-sung (The Host, Snowpiercer) and, in a first for the series, some of the filming will take place outside of Japan.

Some of the credit for the ­success of the series must also be attributed to director Joji ­Matsuoka – who also made the Japanese Academy Award-­winning Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad – and production ­designer Mitsuo Harada.

There is also a tantalising attraction to Midnight Diner that keeps foodies coming back for more: the nostalgic, comfort foods cooked by the Master that conjure up memories of home, family life and love. Although Meshiya’s menu includes only drinks and a simple miso soup, the Master offers a trademark promise: “As long as I have the ingredients I will make it.”

Food stylist Nami Iijima, known for her work on the food-themed drama series Gochisosan and other TV shows and commercials, is the culinary artist responsible for the dishes served on screen.

Her meticulous attention to detail makes the gastronomic magic happen. To the delight of the cast, Iijima makes sure hot meals are served hot, and cold items are served cold, as they should be. For viewers, watching the actors’ satisfied faces as they chow down for real on her delicacies is a vicarious pleasure in itself.

Featured dishes this season ­include tan-men (stir-fried meat and vegetable ramen), omelette rice and tonteki (loin steak) as well as traditional New Year’s Eve noodles and o-sechi (New Year’s dishes) – all guaranteed to entertain you visually and make your mouth water. And, perhaps, to make you wish the Midnight Diner was around the corner from you.

Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories will be on Netflix from Friday, October 21