Review: Midnight Diner Season 1 (2009)
Quick note to start with, that trailer isn't for the actual Season 1 from 2009 as I couldn't find it, but is from Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories Season 1 which is basically season 4 overall. So if you go to check this out, make sure you start with just plain Midnight Diner and bookmark Tokyo Stories for later.
Minimal spoilers ahead.
Midnight Diner focuses on short stories revolving around the patrons of a small diner that's open from midnight to 7AM. The proprietor, referred to as Master, only has a few things on the menu but he will prepare anything his customers requests as long as he has the ingredients. Master will often dispense various knowledge or recommendations to his clientele, but will also often sit back and just be swept along with the story of the episode.
While each episode will often introduce one-shot characters, it also slowly develops a regular chorus of clientele for the diner that will help to move along the narrative at times. Some like the yakuza boss Ryu Kenzaki will appear a small handful of times, putting an emphasis on the first and last episodes.
Others, like the three single middle aged best friends known as the Ochazuke Sisters, appear more frequently as they tend to gossip quite a bit and become a nice subtle form of exposition.
Every element of the production gives the world they create a strong lived-in feeling, emphasizing relatable characters working through relatable problems. Often times the stories will be anchored by some focus on food, be it by a theme set by the plot, an emotional connection point for a character, or simply the happenstance of what brings people together.
And if you know anything about me, that's an element that I absolutely love. I'm also a big fan of food based manga and anime stories, so this is very much my jam. One of the bits that I love about this show is that at the end of each episode the main character of that episode's particular story will sit in with Master and explain something about their favorite dish.
The strengths of the show are many, but at its core it's a series about empathy and the connections people make with each other. There's an incredible balance of emotional storytelling as the episodes jump between themes of love, loss, friendship, grief, hope, and more. One of my favorite episodes, Potato Salad, is mostly a comedy about a famous adult actor who is pestered by another patron to teach him his ways. The story refocuses to the estranged relationship the actor has with his mother, who now suffers from dementia and doesn't even recognize him anymore. This is but one of few stories within the first season that fits nicely into a sub-category I like to call 'soul shattering'.
At this particular moment in 2020, Midnight Diner is a blessing and something I highly recommend you watch if you need a break from our current reality. It's nice to be reminded that the world isn't a complete dumpster fire, and the ease and grace that Midnight Diner does that with is nothing short of miraculous.