Film review: Midnight Diner 2 – Japanese sequel serves up another heart-warming human drama
Director Joji Matsuoka guides actors, led by Kaoru Kobayashi in the central Master chef role, through simple stories that don’t resort to the histrionics of the usual melodramatic fare
Regular customers of Midnight Diner will get exactly what they come for: a gentle and wistful drama about ordinary people that will warm the heart. Revolving around the rolling clientele of a late-night restaurant in downtown Tokyo, Yaro Abe’s long-running manga series has already spawned four seasons of TV drama in Japan and a feature film in 2015. The good feeling it brings can be addictive.
Again directed by Joji Matsuoka (Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad), this slightly superior sequel offers familiar sentiments with its three stories, which are connected only by their characters’ brief visits to the back-alley eatery operated by a worldly chef known as Master (Kaoru Kobayashi), crowded with curious regulars who provide amusing commentary to what’s unfolding.
Midnight Diner 2 begins with the mild mystery of Noriko Akatsuka (Aoba Kawai), a literary editor who always dresses herself in mourning attire to reflect her stress from work. Though she brightens up temporarily after her most difficult writer client dies and she meets a fetching visitor (Koichi Sato) at the ensuing funeral, Noriko’s situation is complicated when she’s notified of her new man’s real profession.
The most engaging of the trio of stories then turns to Seiko Takagi (Midoriko Kimura), owner of a soba noodle restaurant near Master’s joint. Just as she is concerned about her young son Seita’s (Sosuke Ikematsu) reluctance to take over her business, Seiko develops great affection for fellow customer Saori Kimura (Hijiri Kojima). And then she discovers that Seita and Saori, who is 15 years Seita’s senior, are in love.
The film concludes with the elderly Yukiko Ogawa (Misako Watanabe), who is tricked by swindlers into travelling to Tokyo and handing over two million yen allegedly for her son. When the community around Master’s restaurant learns about her situation – the old lady is a dementia patient who may or may not have a long estranged son in Tokyo – they all help to make her comfortable, and then locate her son.
While its plot is all about the yearning of the hearts, Midnight Diner 2 must be lauded as a sentimental drama done right. Mostly devoid of the histrionics prevalent in Japanese melodramas, the film’s refreshingly simple stories almost always reward the viewers without burdening them with unrealistic expectations – much like the homey yet conceivably delicious food items served by Master.
Midnight Diner 2 opens on December 1
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