3 July 2017 | pervocrat
Beautiful bite-sized stories
As someone who doesn't speak or understand any Japanese, has never been to Japan and knows virtually nothing about the culture, this series charmed the hell out of me. It's as beautifully shot as it is scored, and it really does have a feeling of craftsmanship about it. The premise - an anthology of human stories, linked together by a graveyard shift diner hidden away in the midst of Shinjuku that caters to both a cast of regulars and one-off visitors - and the construction of each individual tale is charming without falling too far into twee familiarity, and each story is perfectly realised.
Kaoru Kobayashi towers as the quietly sympathetic Master, who will cook any dish for anyone, so long as they bring him the ingredients... which gives the show its neat device of theming each episode around a particular recipe. Whether as a symbol of or conduit for togetherness, comfort, romantic or familial relationships, or a Proust-like trigger for bittersweet memories that can never be entirely recaptured, food provides a delicately illustrated metaphor throughout the series.
The issues that the Master's customers face are frequently weighty and almost always universal, but the tone is light enough to take it all in stride and, if the characters feel like archetypes, it's because they're meant to be drawn broadly. Part of the show's whole concept is, just like the remembered taste of a childhood delicacy, to evoke a sense of otherworldly nostalgia - to create something unreal in the liminal space of midnight, in the idea of an oasis untouched by the city; the otherness that strips away illusion - and that evokes feelings rather than the realism of minutiae.
Perhaps the show is at its least successful when it dips into magic realism, but at its core this is a collection of great stories, told well and seasoned with enough humour and enough pathos to satisfy any appetite.