After three seasons on TBS/MBS, late-night foodie human drama series Midnight Diner
was licensed by online streaming giant Netflix in 2016 for its fourth season. Presumably to appeal to its potential international audience, an explanatory "Tokyo Stories" was harmlessly tagged on to the title, but otherwise, nothing has changed from its tried-and-true formula. Based on Abe Yaro's manga, Midnight Diner
continues to be the reliable late-night watering hole of choice for viewers seeking food for thought and recipe inspirations.
Like the previous three seasons, Midnight Diner's fourth season comprises of ten episodes, each titled after a comforting dish that holds deeper meaning for the patrons who show up at the counter of the alley diner run by the sage and stoic proprietor/chef Master (Kobayashi Kaoru). The food – like corn dog, egg tofu and cabbage and pork hot pot – act as springboards for standalone stories about the episode's protagonists and their problems, which are relayed to Master and a colorful gallery of chatty diner regulars.
Midnight Diner doesn't ever overemphasize its dishes for food porn. Instead, the dishes are naturally associated with people, places and pasts through the course of each story. Plum wine and ham cutlet bring up memories of lost loved ones, sautéed yam and tan-men reconnect old friends. While the food and settings are distinctly Japanese, the sentiments are universal. The mundane yet moving stories about relationships, regrets and the turns of life carry an unassuming air of both sadness and hardiness, and they're always told with a sense of warmth and understanding for lonely urban souls seeking a moment of solace.
Besides the rotating franchise regulars and the recognizable but not too famous Japanese actors that appear in the different stories, the fourth season gets its first foreign guest star in Korean actress Ko Ah Sung, who pairs up with comedian Okada Yoshinori for a hesitant international romance that needs an extra push. In a first for the series, their omurice episode briefly ventures overseas to Korea where we also catch a glimpse of Odagiri Joe's Katagiri character from earlier seasons.
From its simple premise and modest production values, Midnight Diner has spun a veritable franchise of already four seasons and two feature films. It has even inspired a Korean adaptation. Not every country can have its own version of Midnight Diner, but these warm and cozy Tokyo Stories can resonate with audiences anywhere in the world.