Midnight Diner (深夜食堂, Shinya shokudō) is a Japanese anthology TV series directed by Joji Matsuoka, based on the manga of the same name by Yarō Abe. It focuses on a late-night diner in Shinjuku called Meshiya, dubbed “Midnight Diner” by locals; and its mysterious chef, known only as “Master”, and his interest in his customers’ lives.
“The Master”, the main character of the show, is the owner, chef, and bartender who runs the titular diner. While he has a very limited menu (consisting only of tonjiru, sake, beer and shōchū), he always offers to produce any dish that a customer may want, as long as he has the ingredients on hand. Master refuses to cook any dishes that are beyond his skills or overly complicated. Sometimes, customers contribute the ingredients, particularly if they are out of the ordinary or a very specific craving. The diner is frequented by a range of customers, from salarymen to yakuza and prostitutes, all of whom generally get along well; only occasionally is there conflict between the characters while inside the diner.
Generally, each episode deals with a drama focused on a particular customer. The plot introduces the characters of the episode, often using well-known archetypes and tropes, before detailing their personal challenges. Master, although generally taciturn, offers help and advice. The plot generally offers a philosophical life lesson as part of the story, be it simple or complicated. The stories are usually lighthearted in tone, but some venture into more dramatic territory with melancholy resolutions.
Most episodes focus on a particular Japanese dish, often the favorite meal of the character the episode is about. The dish also relates in some way to the story, and the episode ends with Master giving a brief demonstration of how to prepare the dish while a character from the episode gives verbal instructions directly to the audience. Master also occasionally breaks the fourth wall, to speak to the viewers (e.g. in the TV series, to announce the upcoming movie or to announce the end of a season). Master cooks everything by himself, requesting help only if he knows he cannot do something or if he is incapacitated (e.g. In the first movie, Master is assisted by a homeless girl [played by Tabe Mikako] after he sustains an injury).
While the characters are largely transitional, and seen mainly in their own self-contained episodes, some are often seen as minor characters or cameos in one or two other episodes. Several characters are regular customers of the diner and appear regularly. A few stories adopt magic realism overtones, including supernatural elements, while others utilize montages and time skips to fully tell a character’s story.