Saturday, January 21, 2017

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

This program is described as low-key. Rotten Tomatoes rates it 100% while their audience score is 95%. Netflix viewers rate it 4 stars. I rate it 5 stars. Netflix blurb:
Patrons of an otherwise mundane Japanese diner find simple yet profound connections with one another bsed on the shared love a particular dish.
Mundane diner, indeed. The diner is classical Japanese. This type of place is everywhere. It is eternal. Not only do you get the great visuals of truly great food in preparation, impressive useable ideas for yourself, simple with fantastic ingredients is always the best, you get great storytelling besides.

The first show opens with scenes of modern Tokyo slowing down for late night but still brilliantly lit and quite active. The action is brought down to tiny hole-in-the-wall diner described in scant incomplete detail portions of the whole where we see a purposefully simplified menu offered. The fresh cut vegetables pan fried combined with noodles and broth and your mouth is watering for a simple bowl of soup. The cook serves his customers straight from a tiny kitchen out to a surround counter. The space is very intimate. There is no avoiding your neighbor, no separate tables.

A man sitting with a woman mentions his weight consideration. A woman, his wife presumably, chides him for making excuses every time he orders soba but he still orders the same soba anyway. Then a second woman enters, a cab driver, and she orders her soup without noodles. Very odd. She doesn't want the carbs late at night.

The man turns out to be a late night radio host. He mentions the strangeness of the woman ordering a soup dish intended for noodles but without the noodles. He derides her choice as simple vegetable soup. But that odd choice attracts attention and discussion between the customers and soon enough everyone is ordering the soup bowl without noodles.

The characters connect by the bits and pieces they share at the counter in the diner. The cab driver listens to the radio host as she is driving. The radio host recognizes her from his childhood. She looks like an actress who played on Ninja Squad, his favorite childhood television show. He wrote to her back then and she sent him an autographed picture of the squad. He saved the picture this whole time and brings it into the diner to show the regular customers. They agree the taxi driver does resemble the photo. He mentions this on his show.

She hears him in her cab. He's stirred unpleasant memories. She wasn't a very good actress, but her captain defended her back then. She spoke about how she was the worst actress of all the ninja squad. She was typecast thereafter and got out of the business. I didn't suit her. She'd like to have all that kept in the past. She's pleased with her life now as a driver.

Next the radio host is in her cab apologizing for stirring unwanted memories. He's willing to drop it. She has light brief touching discussions with other diner customers who console and counsel her. She faces her past.

The radio host received a surprisingly heavy response to the mention of the vintage television show Ninja Squad. He started a fan site online to handle the traffic.

Through discussion with diner patrons, the cab driver recalls back then, she came to work early one day to discover cloths spread across the floor leading to her captain wearing her costume. He was shamed and cowering on the floor at the wall curled in a ball devastated at being discovered. His secret was out. He couldn't face her. He admitted to her that he always wanted to be a girl. But from that exposure they became friends and the captain who had defended her as a poor actress became his defender in life. Along the line they were separated.

A female dressed unusually enters the diner with an even more unusual friend. Observing the discussion about this mess of unwanted memories being dredged up and roiled by radio exposure, on the opposite side of the U shaped counter one  quips to the other, "Men. They're all alike. They're like children."

The story develops at a snappy pace. The unusual woman is the taxi driver's one-time ninja squad captain, now in full bloom transition and full confidence. Next he's with the host on the radio dressed extravagantly as female and introduced to the radio audience and reliving the ninja character, repeating the television show's mantra of fighting evil, but he's doing that in full drag, but the radio audience does not know that.

The show ends with all the Ninja Squad cast at the diner in their old power ranger type uniforms of various colors and helmets piling in and seating themselves around the counter filling the space of the diner.

It is a surprisingly beautiful story and nicely told. Had I known I'd be reading so much on Netflix I'd have bought a larger screen. Much more so than cable or over the air. The subtitles on this show are a bit too small for me. I need to move the whole thing in a little bit closer. I put the show on my watch list right off. I recommend giving this show a chance. I think you will like it. Plus you'll get great ideas for your own dinner. And the cook shows in bits and pieces how they're put together. Apparently this show began life as manga and developed to this. It's been a successful show in Japan.


Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I was walking the dog in the park, yesterday, and I overheard these people conversing in Japanese. And that was wild because, for a great big bunch of years now, the Asians have been either Chinese (usually) or Korean (pretty often) or Indian/Pakistani (every now and then).

I, for one, welcome our new Japanese overlords!

ricpic said...

That food looks healthy. I thought diner food had to be unhealthy to be authentic diner food?

Also that Japanese diner seems awfully chatty to me to be a midnight diner. It's been years but when I did frequent all night diners they were places of blessed silence...well, except for the couple having a fraught 3 AM conversation in an out of the way booth.

Sixty Grit said...

Thanks for posting that, Chip, that show really brings back memories.

Here is one - in October of '82 I was in Tokyo on business and I was amazed at the neon signs - they are everywhere. I dragged out my trusty Pentax K1000 to see if I could get a picture. I figured the camera's built-in light meter would barely register - it was nighttime, after all, and much to my surprise, there was so much light that the needle was pegged. I got a nice shot and moved along, amazed at just how things are done over there.

I'll leave the food stories for another time.

Sixty Grit said...

It's funny how the actors break the fourth wall - what a fascinating series.

Sixty Grit said...

Konbanwa! I am enjoying the heck out of this show - and learning things as well.

I never knew that one could gamble on Mahjong, that there are Mahjong sharks who travel to hidden game rooms to play in illegal Mahjong matches and make lots of money. That epi reminded me of The Hustler, a little bit. But what was most amazing was the automated Mahjong table - it scrambled the tiles then served them up to each player. Very impressive!

Also, egg tofu is soft and fluffy.

Methadras said...

Sixty, there is a great modern korean movie about the illegal Mahjong game rooms. I thought it was a cool movie myself. I also like this series. Very fun to watch and very intimate to be a part of. I like that.

Sixty Grit said...

What is the name of that movie?