There are many things that Japanese films do right, and one of them is food. There are countless culinary films designed to leave audiences hungry. Midnight Diner played at the Japanese Film Festival in 2015, and impressed with its gentle humour and lovingly presented dishes. With a season of the Midnight Diner TV series on Netflix, Midnight Diner 2 is now remarkably accessible to international audiences, and it’s a worthy watch for anyone schooled in the cinematic culinary arts.
Master (Kaoru Kobayashi, JFF 2015’s Midnight Diner) runs a diner that’s open from midnight to 7am. His customers can order anything that they like, and he’ll try to make it for them. Midnight Diner 2 chronicles the travails of several customers: Noriko (Aoba Kawai, Kabukicho Love Hotel) likes to relax by wearing mourning dresses, but attracts the attentions of funeral fetishists; young soba delivery man Seita (Sosuke Ikematsu, JFF 2016’s The Long Excuse) has to balance the expectations of his mother Seiko (Midoriko Kimura, JFF 2015’s The Emperor in August) against his love for (marginally) older woman Saori (Hijiri Kojima, JFF 2007’s Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad); and after elderly woman Yukiko (Misako Watanabe, JFF 2013’s The Great Passage) is scammed by a man claiming to be her son, she stays in Tokyo in the hopes of making contact with her actual son.
The thing about Midnight Diner 2’s three stories is that two of them seem slightly outlandish by Western standards, but funeral season and funeral fetishists are actual things in Japan, and elderly people are constantly being scammed. Even if just thinking about the concept of having dinner between the hours of 12 and 7 makes you feel exhausted, Master’s shop feels fundamentally real. This is a film about the small moments rather than the large, and it stretches towards the overtly sentimental only once. By Japanese film standards, this is conservative indeed.
The performances, care of multiple veterans and much of the cast of the television show, are uniformly strong, with special mention given to a bizarre turn by unlikely suitor Ishida (Koichi Sato, JFF 2016’s 64: Part 1 & Part 2). Director Joji Matsuoka, who has covered every piece of Midnight Diner film and television, has a firm hold on making his neighbourhood seem inviting, and he certainly knows how to shoot barbecue, udon, and pork soup. This is the sort of film that isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t make you salivate at least once; bring a napkin.
Midnight Diner 2 is a pleasant anthology film. It definitely feels like three episodes of a television series, and has only the slightest arc as its outer shell, but it’s a nice experience — and if you want more, you can always go home and watch it. Master could dish up for years to come, and you’d definitely get something out of it.
Midnight Diner 2 is screening in Australia as part of the Japanese Film Festival, which tours the country between October 13 and December 3, 2017.
Directed by: Joji Matsuoka.
Starring: Kaoru Kobayashi, Aoba Kawai, Sosuke Ikematsu, Midoriko Kimura, Hijiri Kojima, Misako Watanabe and Koichi Sato.