Tonight I am watching the Netflix-sponsored season of “Midnight Diner” subtitled “Tokyo Stories.” It reminds me of visiting Tokyo, to be sure, but it is definitely more of a literary production than one devoted to flash or slapstick. It’s an adaptation of a manga, but definitely not one of the usual “youth” sorts of manga that people think of when they talk about anime or stereotypical Japanese film and television. What was lovely about the show was the intimacy of the space. It’s a cliché to say that space is at a premium anywhere in Tokyo. Seoul, by comparison, is full of vast expanses of openness. Inside of “Meshiya,” the Master’s diner, there is room for, at most, a large Irish Catholic family. But instead of that, each story brings together unlikely individuals into the dowdy eddies of the lives of regulars.
Plenty of Japanese films and television shows, from highbrow to eye-splitting children’s shows, address the restrictions of space and the social stagnation of the past twenty, nearly thirty years in Tokyo and Japan at large. What was captivating about Midnight Diner was the way it crashed together your typical rogue’s gallery of nightlife characters – the “water trade” and its clientele, but also taxi drivers, wholesale grocers, even the odd fictional Field’s Medalist. I’ve just begun reading Murakami’s newest work, Killing Commendatore, and there is a little of the same aesthetic. But Murakami deals in the isolated and the weird, and the Midnight Diner is about connections.
This could be a longer piece, looking at authors like Yoshimoto Banana and the whole landscape of Euro-American-friendly Japanese literature, but for now I’ll close with the exhortation for folks to check out “The Midnight Diner.”